Behaviour of wild boar in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, UK
Wild boar. Sow and her piglets in the Forest of Dean. Photo: David Slater
The Forestry Commission governing the Forest of Dean state that the most often asked question regarding the feral wild boar is ‘are they dangerous?’. They say that feral wild boar can be large and unpredictable animals. And unlike the majority of wild animals in Britain, when disturbed by people and domestic dogs the wild boar do not necessarily retreat and hide, and they do have a tendency to defend their young when they feel threatened.
However, both Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Forestry Commission (39) make clear that the risk of injury and attack is very small indeed (see more below) – the biggest risk to a human is being hurt in a car collision with a boar.
The Forestry Commission state: “When a family group (known as a sounder) is disturbed by walkers, the tendency is for one of the larger sows to position themselves between the walkers and the young, often accompanied by much snorting, whilst the other sows in the group lead the family to safety. Once the family has moved off the defending sow will usually suddenly turn and run off to rejoin the group. The defending sow may well also be provoked into a mock charge at the intruding people, particularly if that group continue to approach for a better look, or simply because they have not noticed the boar. There have also been reports of people being chased by the boar, which may or may not have been mock charges – but no specific reports of people being injured by the boar as a result of such charges. Equally, there are occasions when people have been ‘allowed’ to get very close to family groups with apparently no reaction by the sows present” (39).
According to the Forestry Commission, male boar can grow to a significant size, and are less likely to run from people, simply standing and watching as you pass by. The highest number of reports of attacks by feral wild boar in the Forest of Dean relate to attacks on dogs. The suggestion is that feral wild boar defending their young will attack dogs that get too close and ignore the sow’s warnings.
The Forestry Commission state: “Feral wild boar are highly intelligent animals and readily learn new behaviours. The boar do not keep to tight territories, and instead roam over large areas to constantly search out food. They may stay in a particular area for a few days or even a week or so when they find a plentiful food supply, before moving on again.
Wild boar can reach sexual maturity within their first year, and can breed all year round. When ready to give birth (or farrow) the sow will find a sheltered and secluded location to construct a farrowing nest. Other sows in the group may stay in the area with a heightened level of vigilance and defensive posturing whilst the group is unable to move far. The group will tend to stay in the same location for several weeks after a litter has been born, and local walkers may become accustomed to seeing the boar in the same place for a protracted period. However, when the piglets are ready to move on the group will suddenly leave the area and move on. Litter sizes in the Forest of Dean tend to be large, between six and 10 – this is believed to be a mix of the farmed origin of the boar and the plentiful supply of food.
In producing the document ‘Feral Wild Boar in England: An Action Plan’ Defra commissioned risk assessments that included a review of public safety across Europe where significant numbers and densities of boar exist in the wild. That assessment concluded: ‘given their widespread distribution and substantial populations throughout much of their range, the risk of injury and attack is very small’. Within the Forest of Dean, the experience of the Forestry Commission supports the conclusion of the risk assessment. Risks to public safety would appear to be most likely through injuries resulting from road traffic accidents related to feral wild boar; and to less direct impacts such as horses bolting or otherwise reacting to the presence of boar and throwing their riders, or dog walkers being injured whilst ‘rescuing’ their dog from a boar attack” (39).
Tragically, wild boar in the UK are hunted and shot. Viva! campaigns to end the Boar War – more at www.viva.org.uk/what-we-do/our-work/wild-boar