January 6,1998
Wild boars lay waste to French countryside


WILD boars have become an aggressive and hairy plague in parts of rural France, where over-protection, over-feeding and the human exodus to the cities have led to a boom in the porcine population.

Asterix the Gaul, the cartoon character with an appetite for roast boar, would be delighted with the beast's abundance, but the swelling herds of sangliers are proving an expensive menace in many areas.

According to the latest estimates well above half a million wild boars roam the French countryside, uprooting golf courses, munching through cereal crops and vegetable patches, and occasionally attempting to gore residents or their dogs.

Last year the French Government paid out a record Fr155 million (£15 million) in compensation to farmers and others for the damage caused by wild game - an increase of a third on the previous year, and four times the figure for 1987. More than 80 per cent of the destruction was caused by wild boars, which can grow to a weight of 270lb and will eat just about anything, from potatoes and drying laundry to mice.

The start of the wild boar boom can be dated to 1968, when a law was passed rescinding the ancient French right to kill on sight any wild animal caught in the act of destruction, and setting out rules for compensation instead. Farmers stopped bothering to shoot the boars, leaving that to hunters, and simply sent in a damages bill to the local authorities. Thirty years later, the boar population is increasing at an alarming rate.

French wild boar hunters in the Obelix tradition are like pigs in clover, slaughtering record numbers of animals. No fewer than 298,383 boars were killed in France in 1996, compared with 30,000 in 1970.

The animals are particularly numerous in the depopulated regions of central and southern France, where declining agriculture and the spread of brush and untamed undergrowth provides them with ideal shelter.

"There, where fields and villages have been abandoned, thick scrub has grown up making it impossible to control the wild boars by hunting," Jean-Pierre Arnauduc, technical co-ordinator for the National Federation of Hunters, said.

Huntsmen themselves are also partly responsible for the population explosion, because of the widespread technique of leaving out additional food in certain areas with the dual aim of preventing the wild pigs from foraging into cultivated land and ensuring a permanent resident population during the hunting season, September to February.

Particularly keen and competitive hunters have been known to lay out excessive quantities of wild boar food in the hope of luring additional animals. The result, however, is that while the hunters are bagging more and more boars, the wild pigs are simultaneously growing fatter and more plentiful, breeding far faster than they can be turned into pâté de sanglier.

In Britain, several hundred wild boars are believed to be roaming the countryside after escaping from farms in recent years. The main concentrations are in Kent and East Sussex, where several pairs escaped after the 1987 storms. Boars have also been spotted in the West Country, Humberside and Scotland. In June a Dorset farmer was charged by a sow, forcing him to take refuge in his tractor.

Copyright 1998 The Times Newspapers Limited.

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