Bright Lights, Pig City: Barcelona's Wild Boars

Barcelona's Wild Boars

Typically they roam in groups of 3-5, led by a dominant matriarch. Males tend to hunt alone or with a younger escudero, or guard. They've got copper-brown pelts, long snouts and short tusks. Chances are, if you've ever been walking in Barcelona's green lung, the Parc Collserola, you've seen one. Sus scrofa, in Latin. Jabalí, in Spanish. Or senglar in Catalá. The wild boar.

Over the last 10-15 years, sus scrofa has reproduced with unprecedented profusion, filling the oak forests close to the cities of Barcelona, Sant Cugat and Terrassa. Not only that, but it's become ever more comfortable in a peri-urban environment, delving deeper into the human habitat in search of food. This has led to sightings of groups sniffing about in the bins in inner-city areas such as Barcelona's Grácia district or the centre of Sant Cugat.

Residents of communities in Sant Cugat and Terrassa have long complained that their streets are in danger of being overrun by furry trotters, and the number of sapiens-scrofa incidents/confrontations (not serious ones, but indicative of a general lack of timidity towards humans) has been rising. For this reason, Catalonia's councils are looking for ways to reduce numbers. The latest solution is a new method of population control; one used more commonly on deer in the United States; the vacuna imunecontraceptiva., essentially a form of pre-emptive contraception.

The idea is the brainchild of the UAB (Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona) professor Manuel López-Béjar. The initial plan is to capture up to 100 juveniles in bait-boxes, and then inject them with the vaccine, which affects the hormone regulating their libido, before releasing them back into the wild - as respectful metrosexual caballeros. Then it would be a case of observing the results. López-Béjar claims the vaccine has no damaging secondary effects, so the new method seems to be an upgrade on the old one. Until now the traiditional population control method was the batida (cull), essentially periodical genocide. This was done by hunters with permits, using firearms. But times have changed, and as the boars spend more time in the urban environment and less in the depths of the forest, shooting them is no longer considered a secure or viable method.

The boar's new roaming habits have also led to a change in diet. Whereas your average 1970s sus scrofa was happy enough to clear the forest floor of acorns, berries, bark, funghi and seeds and dig down for his beloved truffles, his urbane descendent now has a taste for takeway pizza, patatas chips and just about anything you've chucked out of your fridge. In La Floresta, Mirasol and other suburbs of Sant Cugat, woe betide anyone who walks home with an aromatic takeaway after dark. A few grunts later, there's a family of five following them home.

However, these foraging incursions into the urban landscape and potential clashes with humans aren't the only reasons that the jabalí is considered a potentially damaging invasive species. Its the potential extent of the harm they can cause to agriculture and the natural habitat which worries environmentalists. If you've ever had one get into your huerto you'll know all about the kind of instant destruction they can inflict on crops. The higher their numbers supposedly the greater the damage to the natural environment, and in Catalonia the number of them has quintupled over the past 25 years - to over 120,000. There's close to a million in Spain now.

Boars are extremely resistant. They can eat many kinds of poisonous funghi and berries without even so much as a squirt of diarrhoea. They have tough skin - which even dogs can have difficulty getting their jaws into. They're warriors. In Greek legend, Odysseus, Hercules and Theseus all had to defeat a boar in order to show their valor. They can swim long distances too, believe it or not. There's one story about a boar who crossed the seven-mile stretch of sea between France and the Channel Island of Alderney (when it got there, instead of receiving a hero's welcome, it was shot and incinerated, in case it carried disease). It's this general hardiness and extraordinary adaptive capability, combined with a ravaging hunger, which makes the jabalí a potential environmental problem. A mid-range boar (around 50 kg) can require up to 4500 calories a day - twice a human's. Whether it be its diet or moving across difficult types of habitat, sus scrofa adapts. He's a survivor and his libido shows no sign of slowing down. With all the food readily available to him, his nutritional needs are being met in excelsio, and over-nutrition means increased birth rates and a growing population.

The demographic explosion of wild boars is not linited to the areas surrounding Barcelona, nor even to Spain. Its part of a Europe-wide trend. Until last year it was reported that on average 3 million were being culled a year. Thanks to global warming, numbers have been growing in Northern and Central Europe. Particularly in the Scandinavian forests, and in territories such as Denmark and the UK, where they were extinct but have been reintroduced - with the free run of the woods and no natural predators, the jabalí is continuing to flourish.

So next time you see him, deny Señor Sus Scrofa a slice of your pizza and politely encourage him to return to his woodland home.

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