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Alberta's Squeal on Pigs campaign seeing success in battle against wild boar

A campaign to raise awareness about wild boars is helping in Alberta's efforts to control the population, said Hannah McKenzie, a wild boar specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation. (Submitted by Ryan Brook - image credit)
A campaign to raise awareness about wild boars is helping in Alberta's efforts to control the population, said Hannah McKenzie, a wild boar specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation. (Submitted by Ryan Brook - image credit)

A program that helps Albertans identify signs of wild pigs is helping get rid of some of the destructive animals in the province.

Reported sightings of wild boars have doubled in the three years since the launch of a public information program called Squeal on Pigs, said Megan Evans, executive director of the Alberta Invasive Species Council.

The reports are relayed to a team of trappers, jointly hired by the Alberta government and Alberta Pork in November 2020. According to the province, 314 pigs have been killed since Squeal on Pigs began in 2021.

Between 2018 and 2021, 66 wild pigs were killed through the province's own trapping efforts.

"We've actually been really thrilled with the success of the campaign," Evans told CBC's Edmonton AM.

"That obviously meant that people were more aware and really understanding what they were seeing, you know, identifying the tracks and those types of things."

LISTEN | Wild boar reporting has doubled since launch of Squeal on Pigs:

Wild boars were introduced to Alberta in the 1970s and '80s.

The province doesn't have an exact count of how many feral pigs are in Alberta today.

But it's known they have established themselves in north-central Alberta, particularly in a band stretching from Whitecourt to Lloydminster, said Hannah McKenzie, a wild boar specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation.

They trample natural habitats, devour crops, harass livestock and contaminate water sources by wallowing in wetlands. They also carry diseases that can spread to domesticated pigs.

McKenzie said land owners working with trappers are seeing evidence that population control efforts are working.

"Their fields are improving. They're not seeing the same kind of agricultural damage that they used to," she said.

McKenzie said the trapping teams are also seeing land recovery, especially of trail networks created by wild boars.

"So we're sort of seeing preliminary results on the ground from the trapping efforts."

She said the province is working toward collecting data on wild boar populations.

Students at the University of Calgary deployed networks of trail cameras last summer to try and get population estimates, which they will be checking this summer, McKenzie said.

Two other government programs, launched in 2022 to reduce the population of wild boars, weren't successful, McKenzie said.

The hunting bounty program ended in March 2023, while a sounder trapping incentive will wind down at the end of this month. Neither resulted in a single kill.

McKenzie attributed the lack of success to the fact that only four counties participated, adding that none of the four  — Bonnyville, the Municipal District of Peace, Stettler and Wetaskiwin — have many wild boars.

Feral pigs are smart, elusive and nocturnal, which makes sightings rare, according to Evans. That's why the Squeal on Pigs campaign is focused on teaching people how to identify their tracks and signs of damage caused by wild pigs.

The program's website has pictures to help identify clues that the animals are around.

Once identified, the information is given to trappers who use a corral trap, a circular enclosure with funnel-shaped entrance that makes it easy for hogs to enter but difficult to leave.

Ideally, the traps will capture an entire sounder, the name given to a group that usually includes a few adult sows and their young.

"It's really the only way that we are going to actually be effective in managing their populations," Evans said, noting that any animals that have avoided the trap will pass that information onto their offspring.

A typical boar goes through a gestation period of 115 days, and can have a litter of six piglets every two years. Piglets reach sexual maturity at six to 10 months.

"That's why it's important that we remove all of the individuals in the group and that is how we are going to be effective in managing their populations," Evans said.