Wild Boars in Western New York

 

(This 978th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on December 20, 2009.)                                        

 

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Three Wild Boars in Allegany State Park

 

No sooner had I written about the (remote) possibility of the moose being the next mammal to roam our wild lands, than we were informed that another mammal had beaten the moose to western New York.

 

That animal is the wild boar.

 

Now wait a minute. Don't farmers across the state raise pigs and male pigs are called boars? Those are farm animals and should count as wild no more than cows or sheep that occasionally wander away from their owner's barnyard.

 

True enough, but wild boars are only relatives of our domestic pigs and they are truly wild animals. Unlike the usage with domestic pigs, the term wild boar applies to the entire species, thus it is correct to use the odd-sounding description: wild boar sows.

 

Pigs are not native to the Western Hemisphere. We do, however, have collared peccaries, pig-like animals of a different genus whose range extends from Mexico into southern Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. They are much smaller than wild boars.

 

The wild boars' normal range extends over parts of Europe, Africa and Asia as far south as Indonesia. They have been introduced elsewhere, and in particular in our southern states as game animals suitable for hunting. Domestic pigs were also brought to this country from Europe to serve colonists as food. Feral pigs escaping from farms readily interbreed with wild boars.

 

You would have little difficulty telling a wild boar from a domestic pig. The wild animals are dark gray to black and are covered with short fur. Both males and females have tusks and a furry tail. Young wild boars are rather brightly colored and might even be mistaken for calico cats.

 

Adults stand about a yard high at the shoulder, but there is a great deal of size variation among these animals. They usually weigh about 200 pounds, but one Russian boar weighed 661 pounds.

 

While attacks on humans are rare, those tusks can do a great deal of damage.

 

An interesting law of nature appears to apply to this species. It is Bergmann's Law, which says that northern representatives of a species are larger, because this gives them a smaller surface area to volume ratio and thus greater protection from the cold. (Heat is generated by an animal's interior and escapes through an animal's skin.)

 

Adult male wild boars are generally solitary but females and their offspring often live in groups called sounders, which typically number about 20 individuals but can include over 50. Although several families are usually represented, a single sow plays a dominant role. The animals generally are crepuscular, that is, active at dawn and dusk, spending the remainder of the days and nights resting.

 

While most American wild boars are found in the states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, some have also been introduced to our adjoining states, Vermont and Pennsylvania. And clearly it does not take many to develop a thriving population. Wild boars breed twice a year and have eight to twelve young in a litter.

 

Now we have several reports of these animals in Allegany State Park, as well as more south of Syracuse. The source of these animals is not known. They may have wandered in from Pennsylvania, escaped from game farms or been trucked in by individuals who wish to add these animals to their hunting bag.

 

Whatever their source, however, most conservationists do not welcome these animals. They eat almost anything they come across, including both plants and animals: grass, nuts, berries, roots, refuse and carrion, insects, small reptiles, even young deer and lambs.

 

Far from wanting only to control the population of these wild boars in New York, the state's Department of Environmental Conservation wants to rid the state of them entirely. Its current hunting guide includes this notice: "Feral swine are a harmful, invasive species. DEC is working to eradicate feral swine from NY's landscape. Hunters with small game hunting privileges may shoot and keep feral swine, at any time, and in any number."

 

I urge readers who come across these new visitors to report them so that they can be removed. We already have many wildflower and even tree species threatened by the depredations of deer. We do not need an even worse forager.-- Gerry Rising

 

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Note: After this column was published, Rick Miller called my attention to his column in the December 17 Olean Times Herald about the Allegany wild boars. His column recorded that "A bowhunter killed one of the wild pigs, weighing about 100 pounds, in early November," and he went on to point out: "On Wednesday, Allegany State Park Director Michael Miecznikowski told members of the Allegany State Park Region Commission that the state Department of Environmental Conservation was informed by Seneca Nation marshals that the hides of the two other wild pigs had been found in the Allegany Territory in South Carrollton, north of the park boundary." Miller concludes: "Where they came from and how they got there remains a mystery, however."