Wild boars and pigs are relatives of wart hogs in Africa. Widely distributed across Europe, Asia and the United States, they almost never threaten humans except when they are hunted and cornered. They most justly grunt a lot and scratch for tubers and roots. The are three kinds of wild boars: 1) true wild pigs; 2) feral pigs (descendants of escaped domesticated pigs that went wild); and 3) crosses between the two. [Source: James Tabor, Smithsonian magazine]
Wild boars and domesticated pigs are the same species. They can interbreed and produce viable offspring. Physically, domesticated pigs are fatter and have a shorter snout than their cousins. However, feral pigs that descended from escaped domesticated pigs develop long snouts and sleek bodies like wild boars.
Most European wild pigs are feral pigs or crosses who have lived in the wild for so long the difference between them and true wild pigs is very slight. Over time European wild pigs physical characteristics have achieved almost total genetic dominance in the crossbreeds.Wild boars are found throughout Asia, particularly in primary and secondary forests and along the edges of agricultural areas. Asian wild boars are smaller than their Eurasian cousins. They average around 100 kilograms. Some weigh around 50 kilograms. By contrast, Siberian boars can reach 300 kilograms.
Wild boars are omnivores that like to root and forage on the forest floor for roots, tubers, bulbs, acorns, spiders, snails, centipedes, moles, shrews, snakes, crayfish, shoots, leaves, grubs, insects, worms, crabs, fallen nuts and even frogs and poisonous snakes. Boars tend to move along at a slow and steady pace but when disturbed are capable of running at very fast speeds. Their short legs are ideal for getting around in forests and brush but they are not very useful for getting around in deep snow.
Pigs and wild boars were traditionally forest creatures that fed on acorns. In many places they are regarded as pests. In the summer farmers often sleep in their fields to protect their crops from wild boars.
History of Wild Pigs
Wild pigs first evolved in India around 30 million years ago and later spread throughout Europe, Central Asia and Africa. They spread to the Americas and died out and then were reintroduced after Columbus's arrival. In prehistoric times people found that young boars could be kept in the villages and bred. As time went on domesticated wild boars evolved into domesticated pigs.
The ancient Greeks greatly admired wild boars. On how a hunter should attack a boar, the historian Xenophon wrote: “As he holds out his spear, he must take care lest the boar, by turning his head aside, wrest it out of his hand; for he will follow up the charge after it is thus wrested. Should he have this misfortune, he must throw himself flat upon his face, and cling to whatever substance is below him; for, if the boar fall upon him in this position, he will be unable to seize his body on account of his tusks being turned up; ' but if he attack him standing erect, he must necessarily be wounded. The boar will accordingly endeavour to raise him up; and if he cannot do so, will trample upon him with his feet. When he is in this perilous condition, there is but one mode of delivering him from it, which is, for one of his fellow-hunters to come up close to the animal with his spear, and irritate him by feigning to throw it; but he must not throw it, lest he should hit his companion who is on the ground.
“When the boar sees him doing this, he will leave the man whom he has under him, and turn with rage and fury on the one who is provoking him. The other must then jump up, but take care to do so with his spear in his hand; for there is no honourable way of saving himself but by overcoming the boar. He must therefore present his spear in the same manner as before, and thrust it forwards within the shoulder-blade, where the throat is, and must hold it firm and press against it with all his might. The boar will advance upon him courageously, and, if the guards of the spear did not prevent him, would push along the handle of it until he reached the person holding it. Such is his vigour that there is in him what no one would suppose; for so hot are his tusks when he is just dead, that if a person lays hairs upon them, the hairs shrivel up; and when he is alive, they are actually on fire whenever he is irritated; for otherwise he would not singe the tips of dogs' hair when he misses inflicting a wound on their bodies.”
For centuries, hunting wild boar was a favorite sport among European aristocrats. A special breed of dogs call boar hounds was developed for the sport. In England, wild pigs were hunted so enthusiastically they disappeared there.
Wild Pig Characteristics
Adult wild pigs live to the age of eight or ten. Around the size of farm pigs, they weigh around 100 pounds, stand about 2½ feet or three feet at the shoulder and reach lengths of about four to five feet including the pig-like tail. Large ones can reach a weight of 500 pounds and older boars in some area have an average weight of 325 pounds.
Covered by grayish, brownish or blackish hair and coarse bristles, wild pigs have tusks, straight tails, elongated snouts and erect ears. Domesticated pigs by contrast have little body hair. floppy eras, a spiralling tail and small or no tusks. Wild pigs have a strong sense of smell but not very good eyesight. They can often smell danger but, especially in high grass, they can't see where it is. When threatened wild pigs can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour (compared to 70 mph for a cheetah and 30 mph for a domestic cat). Even piglets are very quick.
Wild boars have large muscles on their chest and the back of their necks which help them root (dig up food in the ground with their snout). Their long snout helps them locate food when they root. Amazingly adaptable, wild pigs in northern regions have developed thick coats of fur and eat enough to amass layers of insulating fat so they can survive cold winters. The short legs of wild boars make it difficult for them get around in deep snow. Thus they are rarely found in places with deep snow.
Wild pigs have two sets of tusks. The more fearsome set, on the upper jaw, is used primarily to pushing through the thornbush. The sharper, small tusks are immediately below on the lower jaw. These are used in defense against attackers and in fights against other wild pigs.The upper tusks are sometimes called whetters. The tusks grow as long as a wild pig lives. The lower tusks, which jut upwards at an angle, are kept sharp and dangerous and the proper length by continual grinding against the upper tusks that grow out sideways.
Wild Pig Behavior
Large boars are generally solidarity animals except in the mating season. Females and young males roam in groups called drifts. Males leave the drift when are about a year old. Wild pigs like to wallow in mud to keep cool and suffocate parasites. They also rub themselves with scent and greet each other by sniffing each other's nose.
Wild pigs rarely venture more than eight kilometers from the place of their birth unless they are forced to by food shortages. They prefer habitants in moist bottomland, flood plains, marshes, sloughs and creeks because of the availability of mud for wallowing and food they like. Wild pigs don't need to migrate or hibernate like other animals. They can survive the winter by eating roots that other animals can't eat.
Wild Pig Feeding Behavior
Wild boars forage primarily at night. During the day they spend most of their time hiding in dense thickets. The presence of wild boars can be ascertained by the presence of their distinctive four-toe hoofprints and ruts and holes made by digging up tubers and roots. In marshy areas you can see the disturbed areas where they waddle in the mud. Wild boars are good swimmers. They often snort when they swim.
Pigs were originally forest creatures that fed on acorns. Wild pigs use their snouts and whetters to located and dig up food. The actively forage throughout the year. Wild boars are omnivorous that like to root ad forage in the forest floor for roots, tubers, bulbs, acorns, spiders, snails, centipedes, moles, shrews, snakes, crayfish, shoots, leaves, grubs, insects, worms, crabs, fallen nuts and even frogs and poisonous snakes. In the United States, wild pigs are immune to snakebites and eat snakes. In some places they have brought in get rid of snakes and have achieved that goal.
Wild pigs mainly eat grass, roots, weeds, nuts, bulbs, windflowers, and occasionally tree bark, carrion, rodents and cultivated crops. They are particularly fond of tender shoots of grass and mast (nuts) such as acorns, beechnuts and pecans. Population size is often determined by the availability of mast. Wild boars in Europe eat almost anything that can be found in the forested environment: acorns, beechmast, chestnuts, snails, frogs, mice, lizards and carrion. They are particularly fond of an underground fungus that grows on the roots on trees more than a foot below the ground— truffles.
Breeding Wild Pigs
Pigs can also multiple very quickly. Sows reach sexual maturity at age one and can produce two litters a year. The litters average eight piglets and are produced after a four month gestation period. In contrast cows become sexually mature after two years and generally only bear one calf after a nine month gestation period. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the world's largest pig litter contained 37 piglets.
Like their domestic cousins, wild pigs have a high reproductive rate. Sows can farrow (give birth) twice a year to four to ten piglets at one time. Pigs have more offspring than other animals. The breeding season lasts for about month. Females are only fertile for four days. Males follow estrous females until finally the female gives in and let a male mount her. Mating takes about eight minutes. Males release a tremendous amount of sperm for their size. Large amount of sperm fills the female so there is no room for sperm for rivals. The male then follows the female around to make sure she doesn't mate with another wild pig.
After mating, females remain with their drift for about four months and then retire to give birth alone in a cave, a den of another animal, an abandoned building or leaf-lined holes in the ground. Mother wild pigs are always hungry as they divide time between eating and taking take care of their young. Through play young piglets learn self protection.
Young wild boars have striped patterns. It is probably not totally camouflage because when a predator approaches they get up and run (camouflage is most effective if an animal remains still). Perhaps the patterning is a signal to parents not to eat their babes.
Fighting Wild Pigs
Males are most aggressive during the mating season. They usually don't fight because the can inflict serious injuries with their tusks. Instead they usually show off their tusks by swinging their heads from side to side and laying territorial scent markers. Males with the biggest tusks and warts are usually dominate
"When a boar fights," Bill Brett told Smithsonian, "he opens his mouth and throws his head sideways and up, and then jerks it back. Lots of times this leaves two cuts, one from the tush and one from the whetter. He's at his peak as a fighter from about two year sold., when his tuskes are an inch and a half long, to about 6 years old, when he begins to loose a little of his quickness, and his tusks start getting long enough to curl back some and not hit straight in."
Wild Pigs as Prey and Pests
Wild pigs have few natural predators other than bears, wolves and man but since bears and wolves are not so numerous and have a hard time attacking wild pigs anyway, humans present the only real threat. Piglets are preyed on by eagles, hawks, and foxes. Sometimes they are snatched from burrow while their mother is away. Sometimes they drown or catch hypothermia in flooded burrows.
Wild pigs are fierce fighters. They usually avoid trouble but they can be dangerous if cornered. With their sharp ivory tusks wild pigs can easily defend themselves against bears and wolves. They strike hard and quick and can inflict lethal blows with their tusks.
In many places rooting wild pigs tear up the landscape and spoil water supplies with their wallowing behavior. They also drive out other animals out by consuming most of the food. Once in Florida, a F-16 hit a wild pig on a runway and its landing gear collapsed and the plane crashed. Fortunately the pilot as able to eject and survived.
Wild Pigs and Humans
Wild pigs have yielded meat, grease, soap, headcheese and sausage. Their bristles have been used in brushes and their tusks have been carved like ivory. Farmers and ranchers sometimes regard wild pigs as blessings in that they sometimes clear away underbrush and weeds by eating them and their roots and getting rid of snakes. Generally though they are regarded as pests. Wild boars are fond of rice and a variety of vegetables. Farmer protect their crops from wild boars by surrounding their fields with knee-high fences of corrugated plastic or aluminum sheeting.
Wild pigs have been adopted as pets. They are regarded as affectionate and loyal. They even wag their tails like dogs and like to be scratched behind the ears. The favorite food of one wild pig pet was Twinkies.
Hunters shoot boars for sport and for varmint control. Boars reach sexual maturity at a young age and produce large litters so there is litter danger of them going extinct. Bait used to attract wild pigs include Boar Mate (a female pheromone), corn mash, corn mash with spoiled milk, corn mash with strawberry flavoring (for juveniles) and corn mash with beer (for adults).
Wild pig hunters in some places traditionally set of on horses and generally used two kinds of dogs: chase dogs, which did as their name implies; and catch dogs that held the pig at bay after it has been cornered. Topnotch catch dogs were highly prized. They were courageous—leaping on boars several times size—and sold for a thousand dollars or more. Hunters often took a needle and thread with them on a hunt to stitch up dogs that were ripped open by a boar's tusks. In some places young boars were captured and castrated. Castration, it is said, improves the quality and taste of the meat when the animals are later killed.
Wild Boars in Japan
An abundance of young wild boars bones found at archeological sites dating back at least 5,000 years indicates that Japanese boars may have been at least partially domesticated back then. Fully domesticated pigs appeared suddenly about 2,000 years ago, about the same time as paddy agriculture, which indicates both rice and pigs came together from Asia.
Hunters shoot boars for sport and for varmint control. Thousands are killed each year. Boars reach sexual maturity at a young age and produce large litters so there is little danger of boars going extinct. In many places their populations are increasing. In the town of Yamada, only six were killed in 1989 while more than 700 were killed in 2006.
Many restaurants serve wild boar meat in sausages and stews. In Okayama wild boar ramen is available at local supermarkets and boar curry is served at the airport. In Kura in Hiroshima a food processing plant handles 50 to 100 boar a year.
Amagi Inoshishi-mura, a village near Shuzenji Izu in in Shizuoka, features wild boars races and shows in which wild boars climb ladders, walk across a balance beam, kick a soccer ball and jump through a hoops and are rewarded with shrimp cracker after each successful feat. The village has a boar museum and restaurants that serve wild boar ramen and soba.
In the old days “mountain whale” was a euphemism for wild game. Wild boar meat is regarded as a delicacy in Japan. Takeo, a small city in the mountains of western Saga Prefecture decided to turn its wild boar pest problem into a money maker. In 2008, wild boars there cases $140,0000 in damage to rice and bean farms and hunters killed 1.541 boars. The boars used to be buried but now are processed and sold to restaurants and supermarkets, with some of profits going to hunters who shot them. The Takeo facility opened in 2009 . It is called the Takeo Meat Processing Center for Wild Birds and Animals. Half the construction cost was covered by government subsidies.
Wild Pigs in Berlin
In most of the world's cities about the only place you will find wild pigs is in the zoo, but that is not the case with Berlin, which is overrun with them, or at least that was the case in the 1990s. Not only can they be found in Berlin’s vast parks they can also be found in swimming pools, around garbage cans and even in the basements of pricey luxury homes. [Source: Greg Steinmetz, Wall Street Journal, December 27, 1995]
The wild pig situation got so out of hand in the 1990s that the city government recruited local hunters to cull them. "I’ve never seen so many pigs as in Berlin," one hunter told Greg Steinmetz of Wall Street Journal."
Like East Germans people, pigs in East Berlin were prevented from following traditional migration patterns to West Berlin by mine fields, barbed wire, concrete walls and armed guards. When the wall came down in 1989 the pigs began migrating to western residential areas where they were often welcomed with servings of leftover potatoes, dumplings and sausage. The wild pigs, apparently happy with the reception they received, began breeding in people's backyards there.
"People think they are so cute, so they like to feed them, a park ranger told Steinmetz, "but after a while they are not wild pigs anymore. They're house pigs." To keep the pigs out their gardens some Berliners have resorted to firing rockets after discovering that spraying them with a hose wasn't enough.
The pigs like to go to cemeteries and eat the crocuses. A cemetery near the stadium for the 1936 Olympics spent thousands of dollars on new fences and has a sign reading "Danger: Wild Pigs."
Wild pigs and dogs seem to have a natural loathing for each other. One woman told Steunmetz that she beat up a pig with a leash after it lunged and bit her dog. "If someone you love is in danger, you don't think about yourself, she said. One pig chased a woman down the street and she was forced to jump a fence and run through several backyards to get away. "I was terrified," she said.
In an attempt to control the pigs, park rangers have sprayed fences with "a smelly goo of concentrated human sweat." "Pigs were supposed to be repelled," Steinmetz wrote, "But while people living downwind complained of the odor, the pigs got used to it and kept coming." Pig traps that were supposed to help rangers capture wild pigs and move them to a new location caught more dogs and cats than pigs.
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: National Geographic, Natural History magazine, Smithsonian magazine, Wikipedia, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, Top Secret Animal Attack Files website, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Economist, BBC, and various books and other publications.
Last updated April 2022