How many wild pigs are roaming agro-Manitoba? Nobody knows the answer to that question, and that’s going to be a problem for the province.
Ryan Brook, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan who was educated at the University of Manitoba has the best handle, and even he admits his numbers are far from certain.
The area from the Turtle Mountains to Spruce Woods has been a hot spot for pigs in Manitoba, he said.
- IN PHOTOS: Wild pigs on the loose
He estimates that Manitoba’s population has likely grown well into the hundreds and noted that his trail cameras captured “over 1,000” images of wild pigs in southwestern Manitoba the first time his team checked the cameras last year.
It was difficult to determine how many individual animals were in the images, he added.
“One of the really big challenges for wild pigs is they’re so elusive and they hide so well that you can’t do conventional surveys like (how) the province flies surveys for elk and deer and moose and caribou and these sorts of things,” Brook said.
Why it matters: Wild pigs are known to be tenacious, hard to control and carry the potential to increase quickly, but Manitoba appears to have no strategy.
It’s a growing problem nobody seems to be paying particularly close attention to, Brook told the Co-operator.
He calls whatever numbers do exist “… pretty vague estimates at best… ” and added where they exist, they likely lowball the problem.
“Whatever those estimates are, there’s probably more than you think,” Brook said.
Brian Kotak, managing director with the Manitoba Wildlife Federation, says they do not hear about wild pigs “that often,” but more and more of their members have complained that the animals are present — and in greater numbers — in the last few years.
“The problem is that the wild pig population has grown so much over the last decade and a half that it’s getting almost impossible to keep up with their population growth,” he said.
Brook isn’t optimistic about our current chances of controlling wild pigs.
The tenacious species requires an aggressive control program, he said, and cost of an eradication program goes up “exponentially” as time passes.
Trail cameras are critical as a first step to quantifying and tracking population, he said, followed by taking out the full group (called a sounder) at once to avoid scattering pigs.
Aircraft have been used to great effect in some areas, he said, often helped by thermal imaging to track animals. Effective control programs have also used “Judas pigs,” fitted with a GPS collar that then allows hunters to track the pig back to the group and remove it as a whole.
Ideally, he said, a control program would use a simultaneous mix of ground shooting, aerial capture and co-ordinated hunting teams, and it is unlikely that any one of those methods would be completely effective alone.
The current systems, however, fall far short of that mark, in his opinion.
“Under the current efforts that are going on in Canada, we have a zero per cent chance of success of eradicating wild pigs,” he said.
Manitoba was among the most proactive Prairie province when wild pigs first became a problem in the ’90s, Brook said.
The province established itself as a control zone, allowing any resident to hunt wild pigs at any time of year without a licence, although the Manitoba Hunting Guide requires all other rules (like wearing hunter orange and asking landowner permission) to be followed.
The province also explored “Judas pigs.”
Those early controls are the reason that Manitoba’s wild pig problem has, so far, fallen short of those in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Brook said.
However, a recent study released by Brook and grad student Ruth Aschim now suggests that Manitoba’s wild pig range may be catching up. About 15,000 square kilometres were impacted as of 2010, among the lowest of any province where the species had been reported. By 2017, that number jumped to almost 40,000 square kilometres, almost equal to Alberta.
Brook says he is not currently aware of any concerted wild pig control in Manitoba, something echoed by the Manitoba Wildlife Federation’s Brian Kotak.
“I think it comes down to the province needing to come up with something more aggressive and a better plan,” Kotak said.
The Manitoba Pork Council has advised the public not to hunt, but to report sightings to Manitoba Sustainable Development.
The province, however, says there is no provincial management strategy in place for wild pigs.
When asked, a spokesperson for Manitoba Sustainable Development said the department does not conduct population surveys for wild pigs, although “based on anecdotal reports, the population is not thought to be very large.”
Most wild pigs are thought to be in the southwest and south-central parts of the province, the department said. The department is encouraging the public to report wild pig sightings, but could not say how many reports it has received.
“The province is looking at all options, such as trying new methods of trapping the animals and will continue to monitor the situation,” the department response read.
Manitoba Sustainable Development did not make anyone available for an interview.
Footing the bill
One of the biggest challenges is finding a way to fund research, monitoring and eradication efforts, Brook said.
He says their study, which is the largest survey of the national wild pig population, was actually almost completely funded by the United States Department of Agriculture.
He says there’s a laundry list of research that should be underway now, including:
- Wild pig genetics;
- Interactions with tame pigs;
- Control strategy evaluations;
- Testing fencing options;
- Increased monitoring along game trails; and
- Using camera collars to monitor interactions.
Wild pigs have come up in meetings of the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), but the organization says its members have not asked it to fund the monitoring programs out of the University of Saskatchewan. KAP passed a resolution asking the province to dedicate more resources to wild pig control during its last annual general meeting.
KAP says it has since met with the province to discuss wild pigs, although no further action has been taken.
Both Brook and Kotak, meanwhile, are calling for more co-operation between provinces, and Brook says a national strategy is needed to get wild pigs under control.
“There has to be an interprovincial collaboration and each province needs a plan,” Brook said. “If you don’t have a plan, certainly we can’t talk about eradication. We can’t even really talk about effective control.”