Thu. Aug 18th, 2022

One of the most destructive and rapidly spreading invasive species on the continent has been found for the first time in a Canadian national park.

Wild pigs that tear up landscapes and eat everything from roots to bird eggs to deer are regularly present in Elk Island National Park – the only fully fenced national park located about 40 miles east of Edmonton, Parks Canada says.

“Public observations and video observations provided by landowners confirm that there is at least one sonar (a sow and piglets) in the region that is known to enter the park regularly,” said spokeswoman Janelle Verbruggen.

“The physical evidence of rooting and public observations suggests that there may be another echo sounder as well.”

Wild boar were brought to Saskatchewan and Alberta in the 1990s to help farms diversify. Some fled.

About half of Saskatchewan’s 296 rural municipalities now have wild pigs, said Ryan Brook of the Canadian Wild Pig Research Project based at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Their range spreads over nearly 800,000 square miles, mostly on the Prairies.

In Alberta, pigs have been seen in 28 counties, said Perry Abramenko, who runs the Alberta government’s pig removal program.

“The number of reports received is increasing every year,” he said. “No one can come up with whether there are hundreds or thousands.”

A hybrid of domestic and European wild boar, the animals can reach well over 150 kilos.

“They are the most successful invasive large mammal on the planet,” Brook said.

Wild pigs are shown at night in this image provided by the Canadian Wild Boar Research Project at the University of Saskatchewan, taken using a game camera. Wild boar were brought to Saskatchewan and Alberta in the 1990s to help farms diversify, but some escaped. (Ryan Brook, University of Saskatchewa / The Canadian Press)

Their diet includes nesting birds, their eggs and nestlings, small mammals, amphibians and even the occasional deer. They eat fruits, seeds, leaves, stems, shoots, bulbs, tubers and roots.

Pigs survive the winter by piling up cattle tails in caves that Brook called “pigloos.”

“They tumble into wetlands and tear them up to make nests,” he said. “They contaminate water with mud and pathogens, they destroy crops, they are a public safety risk, and they can transmit disease to humans, pets, livestock and wildlife.”

A 2007 U.S. study suggested the pigs caused nearly $ 2 billion in annual damage. Another study showed that streams with pig populations had 40 times more E. coli bacteria than streams without.

Wild pigs ‘a real challenge to catch’

Pigs are hard to get rid of, said Abramenko, who works in the area just outside Elk Island.

“They are a real challenge to catch. They are very suspicious.”

After Abramenko’s team confirms a pig report, it sets up the bait with a remote-controlled camera. It can take weeks before an echo sounder is safe to return to the bait site.

When this happens, a coral is raised with a remote-controlled gate. The team uses the camera to see when the whole sounder is inside, then they drop the gate.

“It’s important to catch a whole sound and not have anyone on the wrong side of the gate,” Abramenko said. “Anyone who escaped would become more trapped.”

Hunting does not help solve the problem.

“As soon as there is any kind of hunting disturbance, they spread. They attack new areas. They become nocturnal. They become really vigilant towards humans, and any fishing effort we make is diminished,” Abramenko said.

Although Elk Island – a small park with 194 square kilometers of boreal forest and wetlands – is so far the only national park with wild pigs, others are likely to follow. Brook said Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan is likely to be the next.

“If there are no established wild pigs, it will be very soon,” he said.

Verbruggen said Parks Canada is looking for help from the Alberta government to eliminate the pigs.

“Parks Canada looks forward to working together on the common goal of preventing the establishment of wild boar in the area,” she said.

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