23. 9. 2022

Participation in the 13th International Wild Boar Symposium

Between September 5h and 9th, Luděk Brož, Kieran O’Mahony, and Aníbal Arregui participated in the 13th International Wild Boar Symposium. The event gathered more than 200 researchers coming from diverse disciplines (biology, veterinary medicine, social sciences) to discuss the current and future measures for the management of wild boar population in Europe and beyond.

The event was held in Seva (Barcelona) and organized and sponsored by diverse national and international institutions:  

Our team members presented two papers in the conference, in a section devoted to the “human dimension” of wild boar ecology:

Bewildering numbers: a social analysis of how population estimates shape human-wild pig relations 

Luděk Brož  , Paul Keil, and Kieran O’Mahony

Globally, free-roaming pig populations are under increased scrutiny. Maps of wild boar density and distribution in Europe illustrate critical geographies where the introduction of African Swine Fever (ASF) might result in the unmanageable spread of the fatal disease. In their non-native home of Australia, the feral pig population is commonly estimated at upwards of 25 million – one pig per human – a number which illustrates their alarming proliferation. Population counts, graphs, and distribution maps are numerically-based representations that play a crucial role in how we conceptualize free-roaming pigs, their advances and retreats, and the threats they might represent. There has been significant debate in biology, game management, and conservation science about methodologies of animal population estimates and the limited reliability of these measures. Less developed is a social scientific inquiry into how these estimates with a high margin of error and uncertainty are translated into and deployed in public discourse, state policy, and on-the ground perception of wild pigs. This paper will take a critical look at these forms of representation and how they shape the relationship between human and free-roaming pigs, drawing on social scientific research in three contexts: ASF spread in Europe, wild boar reintroduction in the United Kingdom (UK), and invasive species management in Australia. What role do population counts and distribution models play in shaping perceptions of wild and feral pigs – who they are, what they can do, and how we should respond to them? Are these uncertain numbers used to depict an inherent unruliness in wild pigs, more-so than other free-roaming species? How are these representations deployed in overlapping or differentiating ways between the European, UK and Australian context?

Reversible pigs? Oscillating perceptions and relationships in the human-wild boar interface 

Aníbal G. Arregui 

The habituation of wild boar to urban spaces involves significant ecological and social challenges. To adequately address the social side of the problem, it is incumbent to attune management measures to the ways in which citizens perceive and relate to wild boar. A lack of knowledge concerning how people experience the presence of wild boar in the city can lead to tensions between wildlife managers (government technicians, vets, biologists, etc.) and the social groups directly affected by the measures implemented to control the species. In this study, I used the research tools of social anthropology (participant observation, interviews, visual and verbal register of specific interactions) to produce a qualitative assessment of the core features of the human-wild boar interface in peri-urban areas of Barcelona. In my ethnographic fieldwork, which I have conducted since 2017, I accompany veterinary scientists, hunters, animal rights activists, local authorities, and suburban dwellers. The main disjunction observed concerns how “experts” and “citizens” conceive both urban ecology and the behaviour of wild boar. The local conservation agencies often want to remove wild boar from the ecology of Barcelona. However, for many peri-urban residents it is more urgent to adapt to living with a wild boar presence in urban settings. A core feature of citizen responses to wild boar is the consideration that these animals have “reversible” qualities: in quotidian encounters, citizens approach wild boar as being “wild” and “tame”, “rural” and “urban”, “pest” and “neighbour”. These reversible relational qualities do not follow biological or ecological rules of what wild boar are and where they belong. Wild boar reversibility is the source of tensions between suburban dwellers, wild boar, and wildlife managers, but is also the internal logic of an oscillating human-wild boar interface. Understanding wild boar relational reversibility is important to attune management measures to its complex socio-ecological circumstances.