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Invasive wild pigs spotted in national park for first time at Alberta’s Elk Island

Click to play video: 'Wild boars spotted in Elk Island National Park' Wild boars spotted in Elk Island National Park
One of the most destructive invasive species has been discovered for the first time in a Canadian national park. A family of wild boars has been spotted in Elk Island National Park. As Sarah Komadina explains, officials hope to act fast before it’s too late.

One of the most destructive and rapidly spreading invasive species on the continent has been found for the first time in a Canadian national park.

Wild pigs, which tear up landscapes and eat everything from roots to bird eggs to deer, are regularly present in Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton, says Parks Canada.

“Public sightings and video sightings provided by landowners confirm that there is at least one sounder (a sow and piglets) in the region that is known to periodically come into the park,” said spokeswoman Janelle Verbruggen.

“The physical evidence of rooting and public sightings suggest there may also be a second sounder.”

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Wild pigs were brought to Saskatchewan and Alberta in the 1990s to help farms diversify. Some escaped.

Wild pigs are shown at in this image provided by Ryan Brook at the University of Saskatchewan, taken using a wildlife camera. Credit: Ryan Brook, University of Saskatchewan via The Canadian Press

About half of Saskatchewan’s 296 rural municipalities now have wild pigs, said Ryan Brook of the Canadian Wild Pig Research Project based at the University of Saskatchewan.

Their range spreads over nearly 800,000 square kilometres, mostly on the Prairies.

Read more: Montana starts campaign to contain invasive wild pigs from Saskatchewan, Alberta

In Alberta, pigs have been spotted in 28 counties, said Perry Abramenko, who runs the Alberta government’s pig removal program.

“The number of reports received is increasing every year,” he said. “Nobody can come up with whether there’s hundreds or thousands.”

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A hybrid of domestic pigs and European wild boar, the animals can reach well over 150 kilograms.

“They are the single most successful invasive large mammal on the planet,” said Brook.

Click to play video: 'USask professor creates pig plotted map for locating wild boars on Google Earth' USask professor creates pig plotted map for locating wild boars on Google Earth
USask professor creates pig plotted map for locating wild boars on Google Earth – Jan 30, 2021

Their diet includes ground-nesting birds, their eggs and nestlings, small mammals, amphibians and even the occasional deer. They eat fruits, seeds, leaves, stems, shoots, bulbs, tubers and roots.

The growth rate of wild pigs on the Prairies is being called “an ecological train wreck.”. File / Global News

Pigs survive winter by heaping up cattails into burrows that Brook called “pigloos.”

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“They wallow in wetlands and tear them up to make their nests,” Brook said.

“They contaminate water with mud and pathogens, they destroy crops, they are a public safety hazard and they can transmit disease to humans, pets, livestock and wildlife.”

A 2007 U.S. study suggested the pigs caused nearly $2 billion in annual damages. Another study found streams with pig populations had 40 times more E. coli bacteria than streams without.

Pigs are tough to get rid of, said Abramenko, who is working in the area just outside Elk Island.

Read more: USask Professor creates pig plotted map for locating wild boars on Google Earth

After Abramenko’s team confirms a pig report, it sets up bait with a remotely operated camera. It can take weeks before a sounder is comfortable with returning to the bait site.

Once that happens, a corral with a remotely operated gate is erected. The team uses the camera to see when the entire sounder is inside, then they drop the gate.

“It’s important to catch a whole sounder and not have any on the wrong side of the gate,” Abramenko said. “Any that escape would become more trap-wise.”

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Hunting doesn’t help, added Abramenko.

“As soon as there’s any kind of hunting disturbance, they scatter. They infest new areas. They become nocturnal. They become real wary of humans and any trapping efforts we put forward are diminished.”

Click to play video: 'Wild pigs an ‘ecological train wreck’ for Canada, especially in the Prairies: study' Wild pigs an ‘ecological train wreck’ for Canada, especially in the Prairies: study
Wild pigs an ‘ecological train wreck’ for Canada, especially in the Prairies: study – May 15, 2019

Although Elk Island — a small park featuring 194 square kilometres of boreal forest and wetlands — is so far the only national park with wild pigs, others are likely to follow. Brook said Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan will probably be next.

“If there are no established wild pigs, there will be very soon,” he said.

Verbruggen said Parks Canada is looking for help from the Alberta government to eliminate the pigs.

“Parks Canada looks forward to working together for the unified goal of preventing the establishment of wild boar in the area,” she said.

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The Alberta government has program where people can report wild boar sighting. Those who see a wild boar, dead or alive, are asked to safely take a picture and note the location. They’re then asked to email af.wildboar@gov.ab.ca or call 310-3276 (FARM).

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