When we moved here in 1997, it was not uncommon to see whole troupes of these animals, of up to 20 individuals. We have also seen the occasional lone male. Since then, our sightings of them have been much rarer. For quite hefty beasts, they can be remarkably invisible. Large-ish stones overturned in the woods and shallow holes dug in the ground are the tell-tale signs. Then we know the sangliers (wild boar) are around.
I had never seen a wild boar before we moved here. Wherever I lived in the UK was too densely populated, affording little cover. Here, they thrive in the woodland, which is often dense and unmanaged: the ideal hiding place.
Once, driving in the dusk to visit friends, we were forced to stop while a group (or sounder) of sangliers crossed the road. A clear case of force majeure. Quite unperturbed by our presence, they filed across, the stripy young ones (marcassins) in the middle, protected by adults at either end of the line.
On another occasion, we took an evening walk along the track that goes through woodland behind our house. Alerted by snorting and snuffling and the sound of vegetation being trampled, we tiptoed along. About 20 metres away, a lone male boar was rooting in the ditch with his back to us. Once he became aware of our presence, he stormed off (fortunately in the opposite direction) straight through dense undergrowth, small trees bending in his wake.
It’s known from early artistic images, such as cave paintings, that our ancestors hunted wild boar. Various sub-species exist, including the domestic pig. Apparently, their ability to adapt to different types of terrain and to give hunters the slip, make wild boar one of the most successful species in the northern hemisphere. They move from place to place in search of food and water and rarely stay long in one spot.
Pest or part of the landscape?
Wild boar have come to be regarded as something of a pest in France, where their numbers have shot up in the past few decades, partly owing to the absence of natural predators, but also because of changes in farming practices and micro-climates. A troupe can devastate a field of crops. They are also responsible for a growing number of road accidents. And they have been known to raid rubbish bins on the outskirts of towns and villages. They can spread diseases and parasites to other animals.
Regular official culls (battues) around here have reduced their numbers, which may explain why we don’t see them so often. Even so, it’s estimated that there may be around two million of them in France.
On the other hand, by rooting and digging in woodland, they aerate and renew the soil. They also spread the spores of fungi and the seeds of plants over a wide area, contributing to woodland regeneration.
A female normally has one litter a year, of between two and 10 piglets (according to her weight). She’s at her most dangerous before the marcassins are weaned. Normally, wild boars’ excellent hearing means they will have disappeared long before you see them. However, should you have the misfortune to drive into one on the road, don’t be tempted to get out to check on it. An injured boar, especially an adult male weighing up to 150 kilos, can be extremely aggressive. Those tusks are not to be trifled with.
P.S. Wild boar meat is rather dry and tough, in my opinion. It needs to be marinated for a long time and then cooked slowly in a stew to make it palatable.
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