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Wild boar bounty ends in four Alberta municipalities with zero submissions

A provincial bounty program targeting Alberta’s wild pig population has winded down, seemingly without a single kill of the destructive swine.

The Whole Sounder Trapping Incentive program offered approved trappers $75 per set of ears per sounder, or group of pigs, and ran from April 1, 2022 to March 31, 2024.

However, officials say no submissions were made for the wild boar bounty during the program’s run.

Hannah McKenzie, the wild boar program specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation, says only four municipalities participated in the program: Wetaskiwin, Stettler, Bonnyville and Peace.

“I think they were hoping to find out if there were more issues, because at the moment, we don’t know of an established boar population in those communities,” she said.

“I think it was successful in that it raised awareness and got more people in those municipalities out looking for wild boar and eyes on the ground.”

The same four communities participated in another bounty program aimed at hunters that ended in 2023, which also saw no submissions.

There are no plans to extend either bounty program, with one expert warning hunting actually helps spread the pigs to new areas.

“Any pigs removed through a bounty program would 100 per cent contribute to making the problem worse,” said Dr. Ryan Brook from the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Agriculture and Bio Resources. “While the program itself failed it’s actually the best case scenario.”

Brook is the leading expert on the topic and behind the Canadian Wild Pig Project.

He says bounty programs are often politically motivated.

“The only reason we ever have a bounty program is because politicians want to make a splash and want to come across as firm and proactive, but of course in doing that, completely ignore all the scientists and experts who say they don’t work, they will not work and they didn’t work as predicted.”

Brook and other experts have long warned governments that Canada’s “super pigs” – a crossbreed of wild boards and domestic pigs – are a growing a problem that is going largely unaddressed.

Historically, the pig stronghold in Alberta has been north of Edmonton, but a new study in the scientific journal Biological Invasion from Brooks suggests they are expanding dramatically, and encroaching on national parks in the province. 

Wild boars are destructive to native ecosystems, can cause extensive damage to crops, destroy water quality and spread disease to humans, pets, livestock and wildlife.

Despite the failed bounty programs, Brooks does credit Alberta’s other efforts to study and control the spread of wild pigs.

“Alberta is leading the way in all kinds of ways, certainty on the academic side of things,” he said.

“I think in a lot of ways, they’re on the right track, just more traps and tools in the toolbox and I think they’re heading in the right direction.”

Wild boar. (Photo courtesy Mathieu Pruvot, University of Calgary)

Alberta expands monitoring, detection, and trapping efforts

The Alberta government has partnered with the University of Calgary veterinary medicine department on a large monitoring program on wild pigs.

The four-year $400,000 study is looking at the distribution, interaction and transmission of disease between wild pigs and livestock.

Dr. Mathieu Pruvot is leading the research team, and says his team is concerned about transmission, including the risk of African swine fever, which has yet to be introduced in Canada.

“Fingers crossed this doesn’t happen, but we have to be prepared,” he said.

“It would be devastating, particularly for the swine industry. It would essentially shut down the industry, so we’re obviously very concerned and preparing for this possibility.”

In addition to monitoring through the Squeal on Pigs campaign, the province is deploying remote trail cameras and using drones with thermal cameras this summer to get a better understanding of the distribution of wild boar in the province and help identify hot spots.

The province is also increasing its detection efforts this summer to better support the Alberta Pork Trapping team, a partnership since 2018 that has removed 412 wild boar.

“Because that has been so successful, Alberta Pork is expanding the number of contractors they have working in that program as well,” said McKenzie.

“We’re also starting to work with municipalities, because a lot of municipalities have problem wildlife officers in place, so we’re hoping to build capacity and provided resources to strengthen those programs as well, so we’re ready to respond anywhere in the province when needed.”

Pigs are not native to Canada, but were a species introduced in the 1980s to be raised on farms for meat production before the market collapsed in the early 2000s, leading to people to start cutting fences.

At the time, it was believed the wild boars wouldn’t be able to survive Alberta winters, but they were able to quickly adapt and thrive in the province’s cold climate.

If you see a wild pig you’re asked to report it to the provincial government and to the Canadian Wild Pig Research Project.

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