Thursday, September 16, 2010

State of the Wild Boars

Boars sure are having a tough time lately. In recent decades, the German government has been shelling out big bucks to properly discard contaminated meat. Contaminated by what, you ask? Radioactive cesium-137 that they've ingested via truffles and mushrooms and nose-burrowing in soil still ripe with radioactive fallout from Chernobyl's nuclear meltdown in 1986. It may not be headline news here in the states, where contamination tends to come mostly from a poorly regulated industrialized food system, but in Europe and Asia the boars remind us of the basics: the human impact on soil, the troubles of explosive populations, the perils of farmers and the danger that comes along with progress.

AP writer Verena Schmitt-Roschmann reports:

"Almost a quarter century after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in Ukraine, its fallout is still a hot topic in some German regions, where thousands of boars shot by hunters still turn up with excessive levels of radioactivity. In fact, the numbers are higher than ever before.

The total compensation the German government paid last year for the discarded contaminated meat shot up to a record sum of euro425,000 (about $558,000), from only about euro25,000 ten years ago, according to the Federal Environment Ministry in Berlin.

"The reason is that there are more and more boars in Germany, and more are being shot and hunted, that is why more contaminated meat turns up," spokesman Thomas Hagbeck told The Associated Press. "But this also shows how long radioactive fallout remains a problem in the environment," he said. Boars are among the species most susceptible to long-term consequences of the nuclear catastrophe 24 years ago. Unlike other wild game, boars often feed on mushrooms and truffles which tend to store radioactivity and they plow through the contaminated soil with their snouts, experts say.

 However, boars are actually the beneficiaries of another ecological crisis - climate change. Central Europe is turning into a land of plenty for the animals, as warmer weather causes beech and oak trees to overproduce seeds and farmers to grow more crops the boars like to feast on such as corn or rape, said Torsten Reinwald of the German Hunting Federation. "The number of boars in Germany has quadrupled or quintupled over the last years, as has the number of boars shot," Reinwald said, adding that other countries like France and Poland are seeing a similar proliferation of boars.

Last season, hunters brought home a record 640,000, and following that trend, the amount of contaminated meat also went off the charts. Judging from the total compensation paid out in 2009, about 2,000 to 4,000 boars were found to have levels above the 600 becquerel of radioactivity per kilogram allowed for human consumption. That compares to about 125 to 250 a decade ago."

In China's eastern province of Zhejiang, it's a slightly different story. Reforestation is fueling the boar population and the little foragers are pigging out in the region's farmland, devastating crops and villagers. Treehugger reports:  

"The county's director of wildlife protection, Song Weizhen, explains: "In some aspects, the growing boar population shows us the success of the policy of returning farm land to its original use as forests." Because the boars are enjoying more room to grow, they're forced to look elsewhere for food, which can be found readily in the region's farmland. In some parts, as much as one-third of crops have been destroyed, but that's not the only toll. In the last decade, 22 people were killed and 188 injured by encounters with the animals.

When it became clear that something had to be done to reduce the boar population, the government authorized farmers to hunt them -- but the allowance of 10,000 boars proved not enough to quell their growth rate. Other, more humane methods were ineffective in scaring them off as well.

"The growing wild boar population is now a disaster to our village and neighboring ones. We knock on gongs, explode firecrackers and even use bombs, but there are just so many," one farmer in the region told Xinhua.

Now the gloves are coming off. Vuvuzelas, made infamous for their unrelenting drone throughout the World Cup -- and even karaoke -- are two of the most recent methods being used in the fight against marauding animals.

A group of 23 villagers have gotten together to form a "crops-protection team," patrolling the farmlands with noisemakers at night to ward off the invasive boar."

Bad time to be a boar, huh? Either you're glowing in the dark, constantly dodging hunters or your ears are being assaulted by karaoke!


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