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One of the continent’s most destructive and fast-spreading invasive species was first discovered in a Canadian national park.

Wild pigs, which tear landscapes apart and eat everything from roots to bird eggs to deer, are a regular sight in Elk Island National Park east of Edmonton, according to Parks Canada.

“Public observations and video observations provided by landowners confirm that there is at least one pollster (a sow and piglets) in the area who is known to periodically enter the park,” the spokesperson said. Janelle Verbruggen.

“Physical evidence for rooting and public observations suggest there may also be a second pollster.”

Wild pigs were brought to Saskatchewan and Alberta in the 1990s to help farms diversify. Some escaped.

About half of Saskatchewan’s 296 rural municipalities now have feral pigs, said Ryan Brook of the University of Saskatchewan-based Canadian Wild Pig Research Project. Their range is nearly 800,000 square kilometers, mostly in the Prairies.

In Alberta, pigs have been spotted in 28 counties, said Perry Abramenko, who heads the Government of Alberta’s hog removal program.

“The number of reports received is increasing every year,” he said. “No one can tell if there are hundreds or thousands.”

A hybrid of domestic pigs and European wild boars, the animals can reach well over 150 kilograms.

“They are the most successful large invasive mammal on the planet,” said Brook.

Their diet includes ground-nesting birds, their eggs and young, small mammals, amphibians, and sometimes even deer. They eat fruits, seeds, leaves, stems, shoots, bulbs, tubers and roots.

Pigs survive the winter by cramming cattails into burrows that Brook called “pigloos.”

“They wallow in wetlands and tear them apart to make their nests,” Brook said. “They contaminate the water with mud and pathogens, they destroy crops, they pose a threat to public safety, and they can transmit diseases to humans, pets, livestock and wildlife.”

A 2007 US study suggested that pigs caused nearly $ 2 billion in damage annually. Another study found that streams with pig populations contained 40 times more E. coli bacteria than streams without.

Pigs are difficult to eliminate, said Abramenko, who works in the area just outside of Elk Island.

“It’s a real challenge to seize. They are very suspicious.

After Abramenko’s team confirms a pig report, they set up a bait with a remote camera. It may take weeks before a sonar is comfortable returning to the bait site.

Once this happens, a corral with a remote-controlled gate is erected. The team uses the camera to see when all the sounder is inside, then drops the door.

“It’s important to grab an entire pollster and not get one on the wrong side of the door,” Abramenko said. “Any escape would become more of a trap.”

Hunting does not help.

“As soon as there is some sort of disruption to the hunt, they disperse. They infest new areas. They become nocturnal. They are becoming very suspicious of humans and any trapping efforts we propose are diminished, ”Abramenko added.

Although Elk Island – a small park comprising 194 square kilometers of boreal forest and wetlands – is so far the only national park with wild pigs, more are likely to follow. Brook said Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan will likely be next.

“If there are no established wild pigs, there will be some very soon,” he said.

Verbruggen said Parks Canada is seeking help from the Government of Alberta in eliminating pigs.

“Parks Canada looks forward to working together to achieve the unified goal of preventing the establishment of wild boars in the region,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 11, 2021.

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