Belgium’s exploding wild boar population is causing so much havoc that local politicians have demanded the rampaging beasts be put on the pill.
With the potentially dangerous animals straying closer and closer to family homes, one local mayor has demanded the sex-mad boar be given contraceptives to curb their numbers.
Wild boar were extinct for 50 years in Flanders but, since their reintroduction in 2006, the population has grown apace and wreaked havoc. The feral hogs are blamed for spreading disease, causing car accidents and agricultural damage.
Maurice Webers is the socialist mayor of Beringen in Limberg, a north-eastern province of Belgium that has been plagued by the porcine menace.
He demanded that special feeding zones for the boar be created and for contraceptives to be mixed into the food in what he called “an elegant and animal-friendly solution”.
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"I have already suggested several times to the competent authorities that they plan feeding sites,” he told the VRT TV channel, “but I have not yet received a reply.”
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"For the moment, there are really a lot of wild boars coming near the houses. That’s why I would like to take steps to limit the number of boars," Mr Webers added.
But the mayor’s plan suffers from one major drawbacks, Thomas Scheppers of the Flemish Institute for Forest and Nature Studies said.
"If you mix the pill with food, you don’t know if the wild boar will eat the right amount. And we want to avoid that,” he said before pointing out other animals could also eat the contraceptive food.
British researchers are studying boar contraception and favour injections. “This method is more respectful of animals than having them killed by hunters,” said Mr Scheppers. "We look forward to the results of the British study."
The Flemish landscape changed over the 50 years boar were extinct in Flanders, turning into a densely packed mosaic of agricultural and urban areas, which has led to frequent clashes with humans.
In the Limberg region in November, on a single highway and in a single evening, 14 wild boar were struck by traffic. While the drivers were unhurt, the animals were not so lucky.
Wildlife fences along the motorway have proved useless against the plague with wily boar crawling underneath them. The Natuurhelpcentrum animal shelter gets a call every week about a boar being killed somewhere in Limberg.
“There are now too many of them. Some hunters have a great responsibility here, because they released the first wild boars in Limburg. Now we have the problems. It is a matter of time until the first death,” said Sil Jannssen of the Natuurhelpcentrum.
Boar are causing such widespread damage to crops in Belgium that academics are using drones and computer algorithms to calculate the cost to farmers.
The feral pigs either root up grassland, leaving soil strewn around, or roll over in cornfields breaking them at the stem.
The University of Antwerp estimates the cost of compensating farmers costs hundreds of thousands of euros a year but Belgium has not monitored the damage to agriculture – until now.
Anneleen Rutten, a PHD student at Antwerp university, has pioneered a drone-based method to estimate the cost in a fast, standardised and accurate way.
Traditionally such damage is estimated by teams of flat-footed experts trudging through fields rather than the far zippier and cheaper drones.
“I connect my smartphone to the remote controller of my drone which allows me to see the camera visualisation of the drone,” said Ms Rutten, who is yet to catch a boar in the act on one of her unmanned flights.
The damage is obvious on the drone’s camera, which picks up the holes in cornfields and the uprooted soil on grassland.
The drone snaps a flurry of photographs which are combined into a large single image of the field. That image is fed into a computer and an algorithm, shown to be about 94 percent accurate, evaluates the damage.
While attacks on humans are rare, two aggressive wild boar attacked and injured several people in the small German town of Heide in October, tearing through the town centre in an hours-long rampage.
Four people were injured, and one man’s fingertip was torn off, according to police reports.