Something to Squeal About

Here at Fiera we love to find wildlife tracks while we are out in the field for workteaching tracking workshops or hiking on the weekends, but there are a specific set of wildlife tracks we are always watching for, but hoping not to see. They are the tracks made by feral pigs, and they are something to squeal about.

Tracks of feral pigs in snow, Alberta.
Feral pig tracks. Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, with permission.

Feral pigs (or wild boars), have made the news recently as they have begun to spend time in Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton. While the issue of feral pigs as an invasive species in Alberta is not new (they were introduced as livestock in the 1980’s and 90’s and some managed to escape), this is the first time that this highly invasive species has been found in one of Canada’s national parks, and this is not a goalpost to be proud of achieving.

Invasive species of all types upset the balance of the ecosystem they inhabit, and feral pigs are no exception. Not only do these animals damage property through digging and rooting, they also transmit disease (89 different types that they can pass on to wildlife, livestock, pets and people), contaminate water supplies, erode fish habitat, compete with non-invasive wildlife and consume the eggs of ground-nesting birds (Government of Alberta).  

Feral pig sow and piglets. The family group is called a sounder
A group of feral pigs is called a sounder

Hunting efforts have been found to make the feral pig problem worse (despite the province having initially created a bounty program, paying $50 a pig). These animals are so intelligent, that they quickly learn to evade people and any other control efforts when they are hunted. To make matters worse, they quickly form habits that allow them to easily steer clear of captors, and are able to pass along these tricks to their young, making future attempts at population eradication even harder (Government of Alberta). They have even adapted to using cattails to build shelters in order to survive the winter (Globe and Mail), and we sincerely hope not to run into any of these structures in any of our future wetland assessments!

In Alberta, feral pigs have been spotted in 28 counties, and this has prompted a campaign to raise awareness and encourage people to report feral pig sightings and allow the experts to deal with them, one sounder (group of pigs) at a time. The campaign is aptly called “Squeal on Pigs!”. So now that you know, if you see any wild pigs or their tracks, scat, or damage, make sure to report them. 

A poster from the invasive species council with an image of a feral pig and the words, squeal on pigs.
Squeal on Pigs campaign poster from the Alberta Invasive Species Council website.