Wild pigs are anything but bores

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Vicious in self-defence, rampant in destroying fields and vegetation, prolific in procreation, the Sus scrofa cristatus is widely considered undeserving of anti-culling regulation. If wild pigs ever get wind of this, humans best sleep with one eye open.

The wild pig is omnivorous, feeding on roots, grubs, tubers and occasionally carrion. Notorious crop raiders, a sounder of pigs can turn a groundnut or potato field overnight into what resembles a slovenly ploughed-up patch of land.

The wild pig may not be a ‘high-profile’ denizen of the jungle like the big cats or the elephant. Yet it’s a worthy and unrelenting foe, as many a former hunter will readily testify and as its predators have learnt to their cost. For, unlike its much maligned and domesticated cousin, the wild pig has quite a fearsome reputation for unprovoked aggression.

Munnar’s former British tea planters had many tales to tell of porcine truculence. Wild pig ‘beats’ were popular then with local Muduvan tribals being roped in to drive the quarry towards the hunters. In a dramatic reversal of roles, many a time the hunter became the hunted, having to ignominiously seek refuge up a tree to escape the slashing tushes of an enraged and wounded boar. And sometimes the tribal ‘beaters’, too, were known to have been unceremoniously treed when an irate boar targeted them.

Wild pigs can be extremely vicious. Over the years there have been several instances in Munnar’s tea estates of workers being attacked in tea fields when they unwittingly disturbed a sounder of pigs. I knew an estate worker who had been savaged by a wild boar, unprovoked. It had ripped open his thigh muscles with an upward sweep of its razor-sharp tushes, necessitating as many as twenty sutures and leaving him crippled for nearly three months.

Indeed, given its unpredictable and aggressive behaviour, experienced hunters assert that a wild boar is far more dangerous to hunt than a bear. In 1966 I shot a huge boar in the tea estate where I worked. For months it had been on the rampage, chasing and intimidating workers besides laying waste to their laboriously cultivated vegetable gardens; so much so that it was considered a grave threat to life. My very first shot was fatal. Yet, on being hit, the boar headed resolutely (though rather shakily) towards me, bulldozing its way through a tea field — only to collapse a few metres short of where I stood, ready to take a second shot if necessary. It weighed a little over 100kg and its lower tushes measured six inches.

Talking of tushes, the Brits used to display those of the boars they shot on the bonnet of their cars, mounted in the form of a crescent. Some of these, I recall, used to be as long as seven inches — indicative of the size of the quarry.

 

A full-grown boar is usually a fierce and powerfully built adversary, presenting a redoubtable challenge even to predators like the tiger and leopard.

 

Wild pigs, of course, have long been regarded as vermin in view of the fact that they’re extremely destructive to tea fields and crops. They persistently gnaw at the roots of tea bushes, leaving them badly damaged and exposed, sometimes resulting in the death of the bush. Further, they wreak havoc in vegetable gardens and agricultural fields, undoing, overnight, months of hard labour. The extent of damage can be gauged from their ‘excavations’ that pockmark tea fields and vegetable gardens. Potato and tapioca fields — two tubers for which wild pigs evince a marked preference — are often plundered, sometimes even in broad daylight, leaving cultivators helpless.

Intriguingly, from time to time wild pigs tear up the manicured lawn fronting my son’s residence, leaving it in a shambles despite the bright lights intended to scare them away at night. What attracts them to the lawn is unclear; it’s either the tender grass shoots or the cockchafer grubs found there.

Taking note of the extensive damage being wrought by wild pigs to agricultural crops in the State, two years back the Kerala Government relaxed the rules in regard to the shooting of wild pigs. However, the conditions stipulated to enable affected farmers to do so are apparently too cumbersome to be of any use to them. As such, few are understood to have availed of the relaxation.

In Munnar’s tea gardens, sounders of wild pigs numbering as many as 15 to 20 habitually take shelter under the cool canopy of dense tea fields during summer, in the hope of protection not just from the elements but also humans. And when a group of unsuspecting workers converges on the field to harvest the tender leaves, the pigs sense danger and flee helter-skelter, sometimes attacking a person blocking their path. This has been known to happen often, though fortunately no casualties have been reported so far.

An adult boar (Sus scrofa cristatus) weighs between 90-130kg and stands about 80-90cm high at the shoulder, though larger specimens have been sighted. It has a prominent bristly mane that runs in a crest along its back, extending from its head to just short of its tail. Females are considerably smaller than the males.

Adult boars have well-developed tushes (canines) both in the upper and lower jaws. These curve upward and protrude from the upper and lower jaws, giving them quite a formidable appearance. This razor-sharp dentition comes in handy for duels between males as well as for self-defence against predators. To be attacked by a wild boar is said to be a truly traumatic experience.

 

 

Wild pigs are known to be prolific breeders, procreating throughout the year. A litter of 4 to 8 piglets — usually brown-coloured with light or black stripes — is born after a gestation period as short as four months.

While driving through a tea estate I once stopped to let a sow and no less than 10 bristly piglets scurry across the road into an adjacent tea field. Then as I drove off, in the rear-view mirror I espied a large boar (was obviously playing it safe) emerge and lumber across the road to join the others. Incidentally, wild piglets are a favourite prey of the leopard.

The wild pig is omnivorous, feeding on roots, grubs, tubers and occasionally carrion. Notorious crop raiders, a sounder of pigs can turn a groundnut or potato field overnight into what resembles a slovenly ploughed-up patch of land. In Munnar’s tea estates workers deploy dogs and noisily beat aluminium containers at night to scare wild pigs away from cultivation.

Though endowed with a keen sense of smell, the wild pig’s eyesight and hearing are not that acute. It produces an assortment of sounds by way of communication, grunts and squeals being the commonest, and it loves to wallow in jungle pools and streams. It’s both diurnal as well as nocturnal in its habits.

A full-grown boar is usually a fierce and powerfully built adversary, presenting a redoubtable challenge even to predators like the tiger and leopard. I can recall the following incident from the 1960s in particular. A British planter had sent his Alsatian into a tea field to flush out a boar holed up there. Suddenly he heard the dog yelp long and piteously. He cautiously entered the tea field, his shotgun at the ready, to find the canine dying. The boar had savagely slashed it and made good its escape.

The blanket ban on hunting has now given the wild pig a much-needed reprieve. Yet, many consider its meat a delicacy and opine that since the species isn’t endangered, culling should be permitted — a warped view that will be stoutly and rightly opposed by animal rights activists and wildlife conservationists alike.

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