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
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.