Come Together, Right Now, Over Pigs
Subduing Sneaky Swine in Saskatchewan: A Healthy Hampering of Harmful Hogs
Our team certainly put the “cooperative” in Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (CWHC) this past week, all thanks to some unusual creatures: Saskatchewan wild boars. Representatives from the CWHC, the Universities of Saskatchewan and Alberta, Saskatchewan Crop Insurance, as well as several community members all came together in late February 2017 to help with a large-scale wild boar population health assessment.
The Eurasian wild boar (Sus scrofa) is a species of pig that was introduced to Saskatchewan in the 1990’s as an effort to create a novel agricultural product for the province. Unfortunately, there were escapes and reportedly boar farmers occasionally would release their herds into the wild when they were no longer economically viable. Wild boars are very hardy, and these animals often had no problem making it on their own, thus leading to the establishment of feral wild boar populations across the province.
Since their establishment, these populations have essentially become an invasive species, posing a number of problems; namely crop destruction, disruption of native ecosystems and potentially harbouring disease. In recent years, these issues have led people from many different fields to develop a vested interest in the tracking and management of these nuisance animals. The most recent collaboration in Saskatchewan focused on the capture and humane euthanasia of a large number of boar.
Incoming! – Helicopter delivery of a euthanized boar to a drop site. Blood sampling was done in the field, and the boars were then transported to a mobile lab site for necropsy. Photo by: Dallis Aiken.
Bringing Home the Bacon: A Collaborative Effort
In late February as part of a wildlife health rotation in my final year of veterinary school, I traveled to Melfort with Dr. Trent Bollinger, Marnie Zimmer and Collin Letain from the CWHC, where we joined a very diverse team to carry out a wild boar capture and population health assessment. Our small group was responsible for conducting post-mortem examinations on the pigs, as well as collecting samples to test for diseases the boars may be carrying, a project funded by Saskatchewan Agriculture. We also collected samples of lymphoid tissue, muscle and other organs on behalf of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). These samples will enable the CWHC and the CFIA to evaluate what risks wild boar pose to domestic swine populations in Saskatchewan and throughout Canada, as well as determine potential health risks to humans handling and consuming wild boar meat. I had very little experience with post-mortem examination, especially of the wild boar variety, but shortly into the first day we had developed an efficient system. However, our necropsy team was merely a cog in a much bigger system, and we depended greatly on several other members of the group to make it all happen.
Necropsy crew preparing for wild boar sampling in our mobile diagnostic lab. Photo by: Trent Bollinger.
Representing the University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Ryan Brook, Ruth Kost (a PhD student) and Dallis Aiken (a 4th year animal science student) oversaw the overall organization of this venture. They also collected several samples from the boars for their own research, as well as removed GPS collars placed on animals in the past year. This outing was a continuation of the efforts of the “Canadian Wild Boar Project” led by Dr. Ryan Brook; a project 5 years running that focuses on understanding the ecology and impacts of wild boar in Western Canada.
Janelle Fouhse of the University of Alberta was also able to piggy-back (pun-intended) on the outing to collect fecal and digestive tract samples for her project funded by the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA). This project will compare bacteria present in the digestive tracts of wild boar to those of domestic pigs to see if differences in gut flora may play a role in swine health.
Ryan Powers of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) became another key participant in the “Canadian Wild Pig Project” in 2013 when a sounder in southern Saskatchewan spilled into North Dakota. He accompanied us during this trip to aid in the efforts and provide expertise in the area of boar tracking and management. Also in attendance were several members of the local Crop Insurance board, who provided knowledge of the area, hunting and tracking skills and transportation. Our capture successes were made possible by a skilled aviation team; these talented pilots tracked the sounders from the air and employed net capture technique to catch the boars, prior to performing euthanasia by captive-bolt.
The helicopter crew dropping off another boar with our ground team. Photo by: Dallis Aiken.
Last, but certainly not least, many locals were keen to help with the population health assessment. A few generous landowners were willing to let us track and euthanize animals on their land, and we were even provided with base camps to set up a mobile lab to perform necropsies and collect samples. A local butcher was also critical to the collaborative efforts, ensuring that the boar carcasses did not go to waste.
Despite some weather related setbacks, our team was able to capture and euthanize over 40 wild boar. The previously placed GPS collars gave us a head start in locating the boars, and we were able to locate and kill many more with the help of our air team.
This vastly diverse team was all working together for one goal; to better understand the overall impacts of wild boar populations on the environment, local hunters and farmers, as well as the health of domestic pigs and humans. This information will help steer future management approaches in order to keep wild boar from doing any further damage.
Ryan Powers of the USDA preparing to collect blood from recently euthanized boars. Photo by: Dallis Aiken.
Contributed by Alex Neumann.