The life of a cryptozoologist doesn’t just resolve around quests to find Bigfoot, lake-monsters, the Chupacabras, the Abominable Snowman, or sea-serpents. Sometimes, it involves a search for known animals seen in locations in which they have no business hanging out. A perfect case in point: the wild boar of Britain.
Between their centuries-old extinction in the British Isles (or, some might very well argue, their presumed extinction) and the 1980s, when wild boar farming began in earnest in Britain, only a handful of captive wild boar, imported from the continent, are known to have been present in the country.
Occasional escapes of wild boar from wildlife parks did occur as early as the 1970s. It is since the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, that significant populations have successfully re-established themselves after escaping from farms; the number of which has greatly increased as the demand for wild boar meat has grown. Now: on to DEFRA.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is the arm of the British Government that is responsible for environmental protection, food production and standards, agriculture, fisheries and rural communities in the United Kingdom.
DEFRA also leads for the UK at the EU on agricultural, fisheries and environment matters and in other international negotiations on sustainable development and climate change; although a new Department of Energy and Climate Change was created on October 3, 2008 to take over the last responsibility.
A 1998 official, governmental study of boar living wild in Britain confirmed the presence of two populations: one that roamed Kent and East Sussex and another which had made Dorset its home; both of which colonies allegedly arose as a result of damage to fences during the devastating hurricane of 1987 that allowed the animals to escape from their enclosures.
Another DEFRA report, prepared in February 2008, again confirmed the existence of these two sites as “established breeding areas and also identified a third colony: in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire; specifically in the Forest of Dean/Ross on Wye area. A “new breeding population” was also identified in Devon.
According to DEFRA’s current estimates, the Kent-East Sussex population stands at around 200 animals; with perhaps 60 in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, less than 50 in Dorset, and probably a similar figure in evidence throughout Devon.
Complicating the Devonshire statistics, however, is the fact that in December 2005 animal-rights activists released approximately 100 wild boars from a farm at West Anstey, Devon. Although some of the creatures were certainly recaptured, many continued to remain at large, with young even being sighted in the following year, some miles from the original point of release, and especially on the fringes of Exmoor.
Notably, some of these beasts were filmed by local wildlife cameraman Johnny Kingdom and featured on BBC television. It has been estimated in some quarters that, today, the Devon colony may actually very well rival that of Kent and East Sussex in numbers.
As far as captive wild boars are concerned in Britain, due to the fact that the animals are included in the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976, certain legal requirements have to be met prior to setting up a farm. A licence to keep boar is required from the local council, who will first appoint a specialist to inspect the premises and report back to the council. Requirements include secure accommodation and fencing, correct drainage, temperature, lighting, hygiene, ventilation and insurance.
The original British wild boar farm stock was chiefly of French origin, but from 1987 onwards, farmers have supplemented the original stock with animals of both west European and east European origin. The east European animals were imported from farm stock in Sweden because Sweden, unlike Eastern Europe, has a similar health status for pigs to that of Britain.
Currently, and somewhat surprisingly, there is no central register listing all the wild boar farms in Britain; and, as a result, the total number of wild boar farms is tantalizingly unknown.