It was crowned the “Emperor of Pigs,” dubbed “Pigzilla,” declared “terrifying” and described as “humongous,” “massive,” “giant,” “enormous,” and “mega-huge” by a variety of international media outlets.
So, after four seconds of video footage showing it rummaging through a Hong Kong dumpster went viral this month, Coconuts HK went looking for the bulky wild boar, who we shall henceforth refer to as Pigzilla.
The huge hog, it turns out, is well known in it’s hilltop hood aka The Peak.
He’s the “Daddy Boar,” one local said — the boar patriarch of a boar clan familiar to people living around the Victoria Peak Fire Station and a nearby rubbish collection point, the scene of the now-viral video which, contrary to assertions by the Daily Mail and other reputable media (ahem), is not meters from a primary school.
“There are six together,” said domestic helper Silvia Mecuring who, like others, noted the troupe regularly knocked over garbage bins in the area looking for food. “They roam around; we love to look at them.”
And roam they do. On a recent afternoon, a smaller member of the clan trotted nonchalantly past Coconuts HK on its way to the same dumpster that Pigzilla was filmed rifling through, loitering and staring somewhat expectantly as a local cleaner dropped off a load of cardboard.
“They are very harmless, they haven’t hurt anyone. They’re just looking for food to eat,” she said, as the boar peaked around the dumpster. “I can just shoo them away.”
Ten minutes later, three more boars trooped down Gough Hill Path. Watching them pass was local security guard Gurung Thaman.
“They started [coming] about two or three years ago. This year, there are so many. They are searching for food; the bins are a source of food. Every morning, this morning also, the bin has fallen down.”
But as nice as the thought of a nuclear boar family living benignly in the luxury locale seems, the presence of a large male boar (as Pigzilla appears to be, according to an expert) with younger pigs around, however, is not normal, and actually indicative of a wider problem.
Male boars, you see, don’t do the whole “daddy” thing, explained Paul Crow, Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden’s senior conservation officer, in a recent interview.
“If it’s a male, as I thought, it’s unlikely to be related to those individuals,” Crow said, referring to three smaller boars that can be seen loitering near Pigzilla in the clip.
“As [male boars] mature, they tend to break away from groups and stay single. If it’s an adult and juvenile, it’s normally a mother and her young, but I’m pretty sure that one looked like a male.”
The boars in the clip, Crow explained, were likely drawn “unnaturally” together by natural pressures and human-related causes. As boars’ natural ground-based food sources (which include, but are not limited to, roots, bulbs, insects or earthworms) grow harder to access during the winter when the earth hardens, the animals descend to water sources to scour for chow.
This brings them into urban areas where, thanks to poor waste management, they find readily available food scraps left in rubbish bins by, in Crow’s words, “wasteful people.”
The result is boars who are less fearful of humans, something Crow said he’d seen “more and more,” adding that their seeming passivity was “deceptive.”
“We should all remember that they are wild animals first and foremost. They’re in that situation only because they’ve been driven to it by other pressures, so they’re tolerating what’s around them,” Crow said.
“They could be actually tightly strung and ready to explode. Given the size and weight of them and the tools they have to protect themselves, the public should be very careful in that situation.”
Population growth: big boar, growing problem
While there’s no reliable estimate on the number of boars around Hong Kong, the population is growing, says Crow, something that’s reflected in the year-on-year increases in the amount of reports and complaints received by the government.
The most recent figures from the Agriculture Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) show that boar reports and complaints have doubled from 328 in 2013 to 738 last year.
A large part of this, says Crow, is that boars no longer face predators that once roamed Hong Kong — like tigers and asian leopards, with its only remaining threat the Burmese python.
The upshot is the population is fast approaching unsustainability.
“It’s a healthy population, but it’s probably verging on a population that will become unhealthy for the ecosystem. There will be a lot of boar, but that’s not necessarily a good thing for nature itself.
“There’s plenty of examples around the world where the boar population has got out of control, and when that happens, they start to degrade the natural habitat.”
To control wild pigs in urban areas, the AFCD has recently launched a scheme to capture, desex, relocate and release boars. At the same time, the department suspended its hunting of the animals in early 2017. The hunting program killed 45 boars in 2016, at least 29 in 2015, and 17 in 2014.
It has also initiated a “comprehensive review of management measures and strategies for local wild pigs” while reiterating its advice to residents to remove food sources in their trash and avoid feeding the animals.
Crow said the desexing program was a step in the right direction, though it would be slow in curbing growth, and a cull might one day be necessary.
“But a cull that’s based on scientific evidence that shows exactly what needs to be removed from the population to keep the rest of the ecosystem healthy, might well be something that Hong Kong has to look to in the future.”
As for Pigzilla, Crow said he wasn’t surprised about his size, having encountered similarly enormous wild pigs “quite a few times” during his 20 years working with wildlife in Hong Kong.
The “Emperor of Pigs” was, though, certainly at the “upper limit” of the size a boar could grow.
“An animal of that size is probably getting close to the end of its natural life,” he said.
“They tend to put on bulk and grow almost continually. It just means it’s been a successful animal that’s lived a long time in the wild. It’s done the right thing and managed to find food. It’s just a shame it’s coming to rubbish bins now, that means there’s not food elsewhere for it.”