Written by Simon Arms, Earth Island Journal
Under the bright lights of Berlin’s inner city shines a world of harmonious contrasts: Artists rub shoulders with businessmen; businessmen rub shoulders with the unemployed; and the unemployed rest and play with the Turks and the Kurds to mold their own distinct culture.
Yet ten minutes away – deep inside the city’s vast forests – lives a bored, hungry, restless creature whose keen snout senses a fuller, more vibrant life. Twice the size of a dog and weighing up to 300 pound, Berlin’s wild boar has the potential to rub everyone the wrong way.
The boars dig up gardens, parks and cemeteries, causing thousands of euros worth of damage. Statistics show that in the last year the boars have been responsible for 15 percent of Berlin’s car accidents. When they are cornered they will charge and charge hard and fast – up to 31 mph, heads down, tusks forward. Derk Ehlert, City Hall’s special commissioner for wildlife, states, “the authorities have no choice but to control them.” He argues that the city’s hunters are essential to keep down the animal’s rising population. Many Berliners disagree. They see the boars as part of the cityscape. In their opinion the authorities approach is inhumane and unnecessary.
For the authorities the problem is not only the wild boars’ coming into the inner city for food (that has been happening for centuries), but that their population is increasing dramatically. Since 1989, the number of boars has risen from 3,000 to between 8,000 and 10,000. The milder winters caused by global warming is one reason. Another is the boars are enjoying a more varied diet. Both have combined to create boars that are living longer, maturing earlier, and mating sooner. So, not only have the authorities hired teams of hunters to control their numbers, but they have asked them, and other hunters, to concentrate on shooting piglets under 15 weeks. Hunters earn a special price for each piglet killed.
This approach, controversial among the general public, has also upset many hunters – only for different reasons. First, the hunters regard themselves as sportsman; killing babies is not a test of their skills. Second, and the main reason, hunters can still earn more money killing and selling an adult boar. Hunting piglets is waste of their time. While the authorities need to kill 80 percent of the new generation to reduce the boar population, they are currently killing only 40 percent.
The hunters who try to meet the quota are often showered with abuse. When the authorities have called them in to shoot boars in the inner city, people have been known to scream “murderer” at them, and old ladies have been known to beat them back with their umbrellas. On one occasion a woman called in a hunter to kill a boar that was wandering through her flower shop, and a newspaper reporter to attract publicity. By the time the hunter had loaded and aimed his gun, however, the woman had become friendly with the boar. She insisted the hunter leave the animal alone. The newspaper journalist told the hunter that if he went through with the shooting, he would take photographs and write a negative story. The hunter backed down.
In this boar war, the authorities cannot afford bad PR. According to a study by York Kotulsji and Andreas Konig, at least 25 percent of Berliners believe the boars have the right to share their space as they believe they have the right to share the boars’. After all, it is human error and expansion that caused the boom in the first place. Regarding them as friends, some people will attract them into their backyards by feeding them oats – many boars’ favorite food. Feeders have even attracted boars to new areas – such as the derelict US listening station on top of a hill in West Berlin.
Wildlife commissioner Ehlert says the feeding is not only encouraging more boars into the city, but changing their diet. “Boars,” he says, “are a complex animal.” They come into the city because they enjoy variety and, like people, develop their own personal tastes. The city is opening up a whole new menu for their palate. In addition, it is the mother’s role to teach her children where to find the best food. If the female boar leads her sounding into the city for scraps, the next generation will feed in the city, and then the next generation after that. As far as the authorities are concerned, that will increase the chance of attacks on humans and the destruction of public property, which will, in turn, place a strain on their budget.
But the question remains: Are the authorities’ methods worthwhile, economically or otherwise? Certainly the evidence suggests they need to control the situation. Yet there is equally strong evidence to suggest the use of specialist hunters is exacerbating it. One day last year, a boar injured by a hunter’s bullet bit three people who were in a park. The Berlin Animal Protection Society – which is against the harsh tactics, but in favor of controlling the boars – points to such incidents to argue hunting should be the very last resort.
The Animal Protection Society wants the authorities to control the boar population through a contraceptive pill. The authorities say that is too difficult and expensive to implement. Perhaps in the short term. In the long term, not only could such a solution prove far less destructive for the local community, but also for the authorities’ credibility. Administering the pills in baited food could keep them in their natural habitat.
In the meantime, Berliners are going to have to find a way to coexist with the beasts. The Animal Protection Society’s new public course, “Wild Boars in the City,” hopes to educate people on how to do just that.
This post was originally published by the Earth Island Journal.
Photo from curlybob0161 via flickr