Living with Wild Boar
Following is an article written by Alastair and published in the Citizen newspaper. The collection has at present three orphan wild boar.
Much has been written and said about the wild boar now resident in the Royal Forest of Dean, some of it factual and correct, but unfortunately most of it has been alarmist and grossly exaggerated by a culture of ignorance and misguided fear.
Wild boar have existed in the Forest for many years and there is reliable evidence of organic domestic sows giving birth to long haired piglets after an unwelcome visit by a randy wild boar! This small population in the north of the Forest never got out of control and received very little publicity.
However this all changed in January 1998 after the media latched onto the two Tamworths , Butch and Sundance who escaped from an abattoir in Malmesbury. They became international celebrities and the press had a field day. Valued at about forty quid each the owner told everyone that they would be returned to the abattoir when caught. A nation of animal lovers was outraged, the Daily Mail bought them and they were retired to the sanctuary of a rare breeds farm in Kent.
By now everyone had been told that pigs are very intelligent and sensitive creatures who are by nature very clean, and are extremely easy to train, indeed they can make an excellent family pet. Bacon sales plummeted, pork pies no longer sold so well, vegetarian cook books outsold Jeffrey Archer and the legend of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid took on a new dimension. Moira, my wife, and I met Kevin the guy who caught the errant two, but that’s another story!
A few years passed and a boar escaped from Ensor’s abattoir in Cinderford, It headed for the main supermarket in town, charged in, saw the bacon counter and got out as fast as it could! I told you they were intelligent! It was January and the national press were looking for news and upon hearing that an international incident had occurred in Cinderford, the Times immediately sent their top journalist to the Forest to catch or interview the culprit. He booked in at Speech House and immediately started to enquire about the boar. Moira introduced him to me as an expert in boars, but not necessarily four legged ones! and I was employed by them to find the elusive creature, but my pathetic cries of “piggy piggy” brought little response. My pals pulled my leg unmercifully until I showed them the cheque for five hundred quid!
So when the boar turned up in Staunton they once again contacted me and my interest in these fascinating animals began in earnest. I spent hours studying and eventually understanding them. A rampaging wild boar would be a fearsome adversary, but fortunately they, although curious, are quite wary of us. We did several interesting TV programmes and devotees of Discovery still remind me that they saw me on telly last night. A personal highlight was when I told the radio audience to see for themselves as they were now live on telly. I was told by an irate radio director that the national grid had a massive power surge as half of Britain switched off their radio and turned on the telly. However I think I have been forgiven as most of their staff are now retired or had redundancy packages.
Our animal collection now has three orphan boar, and they live in complete harmony with our numerous other breeds. Stevie (Wonder) was born blind and is about three years old and is rather spectacular with his tusks and thick black coat. He is very powerful and can lift my seventeen stone with his snout. He is very affectionate. Ella (Fitzgerald) was abandoned in January and brought to us by her rescuers already litter trained, she was only two weeks old! For the next month she slept in her dog cage by the side of our bed! She is now rather large and very playful and lives alongside our other animals. Puzzle is approximately 4 months old and was rescued by Shirley Horsman of Puzzle House in the Forest. She has only three working legs, however she copes really well and at present is living with our goats.
The Forest boar are now truly wild. Forget stories that they are hybrids, they have all the characteristics and physical features of genuine wild boar. Correct, they may have been released from a captive herd, but they are still pure bred wild boar. Our boar are classified as wild animals, we have a Dangerous Wild Animals Licence which permits us to keep them. I hope that people will get to understand and accept these wonderful creatures in our Forest. Many of their critics have never seen them, but yet they tell us that it is only a matter of time before someone is killed. One recent report said that he had been chased by a boar and it was only because he was a good athlete that he escaped! Rubbish! a boar in full flight is much faster and agile than any human, come and see ours’ in action. As for dogs being hurt any animal will defend itself or their young. We regularly run three dogs off lead in the Forest during our llama treks, but they are under control. We are dog lovers and would not wish harm to come to come to any dog, but owners must be responsible. One of our llamas was attacked in the Forest by an out of control dog and badly injured.
Much more worrying is the large number, and I mean large number, of illegal hunters shooting deer and boar in the Forest. I am a realist and agree that numbers have to be controlled but this is the job of skilled Forestry Commission staff and not that of anyone who can lay his hands on a shot gun or rifle. Deer and boar are being shot in very dangerous situations by persons motivated by profit and worse still sheer blood lust, often using weapons not capable of a clean kill. While filming at Staunton with a wildlife crew I met two youngsters looking for boar with an ancient .410 hammer action shot gun! On another occasion whilst on one of our Sunday llama treks we met a chap with a very powerful rifle and massive scope, all this in the middle of the day, with a large number of visitors in the area. I personally have been told and witnessed many incidents where deer and boar have been shot. The details have been passed on to the Police and Forestry.
Under pressure from individuals and the media the DEFRA feeding stations (an attempt to calculate the Forest population) were removed, as they were being used by poachers to trap and kill boar.
What can be done to keep them in the Forest? We have to realise that they are largely nocturnal and as such will naturally keep out of your way. If you come across a group (sounder) keep your dog under control and enjoy their company, under no circumstances try to feed them. Boar have very poor eyesight relying on scent to locate you and their food. Above all do not panic, watch them quietly and do not invade their space, they are not domestic animals and are probably more frightened of you than you are of them.
Puzzle our latest orphan has been with us for about two months and is still very wary of strangers, preferring to run away until she realises you are not a threat. Her natural instincts are survival and that she was able to exist with a seriously deformed rear leg is a miracle. However she was certainly on borrowed time and was extremely thin when tempted into Shirley’s house.
Our animal collection is privileged to have such fabulous additions and they will hopefully have a long and enjoyable life ahead of them.