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."