The boar war: Barcelona aims to control its wildlife

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The Independent Online

Catalonia became Spain's capital of animal rights last summer when the regional parliament banned bullfighting. Now it is struggling with a new animal issue: what to do about all those wild boars in a Barcelona park?

The boars are not as glamourous as the bulls that face sequinned-suited matadors. But the creatures' fate is stirring the animal-activist crowd.

The number of wild boars in Collserola Park has grown too big to sustain itself. Environmentalists estimate that about 500 of them forage for roots, plants, insects and tiny prey in the wooded mountains at the edge of Barcelona. They also sometimes wind up in the city itself, scavenging for food in trash containers. Wandering across roads and highways, they occasionally cause traffic accidents.

So the regional government that previously spared the fighting bulls devised an odd solution, allowing hunters to control the boars' numbers by killing them with bows and arrows.

"It's very secure and ecological, and there have never been accidents," said Francisco José Martinez, president of the Astor Bow Hunting Society. Archers shoot hi-tech metal arrows that cost as much as €30 (£25) each from deluxe aluminium bows, which cost thousands of euros. The weapons kill as quickly as shotguns, Mr Martinez said. They also make far less noise and do not disturb birds nesting nearby.

But the local animal lobby, riding high after its anti-bullfight victory, protested against the scheme with a letter-writing campaign. AnimaNaturalis called the method "cruel, evil and inefficient", causing the animal to bleed to death slowly and painfully. So far, the activists are on a winning streak. The Catalan government has backtracked and now the only legal way to control the numbers of wild boars is to trap them or daze them with a tranquilliser dart and transfer them to another mountain.

But environmentalists are still not satisfied. "We humans created the problems, so the solution isn't to kill more of them but to lessen the impact of development by bringing back their natural predators," said Jaume Grau, a spokesman on biodiversity issues for the environmental group Ecologists in Action.

His group recommends introducing predators such as wolves, eagles and bears, which gradually disappeared from the park over the last century to be replaced by marathons, motocross races and bird watchers. "Bears have been re-introduced in the Pyrenees mountains and nobody has been killed except a sheep or two," Mr Grau said.

Barcelona may seem like an unlikely place to encounter a glut of wild boars. But the city's population has multiplied nearly five-fold in the last 50 years. Before then, the Sagrada Familia, Las Ramblas and other monuments were surrounded by farms and wooded mountains.

The boars' problems began as the Barcelona suburbs sprawled around their habitat. "Before they needed more food they could move to another mountain habitat, now when they leave the forest they immediately encounter a highway," Mr Grau said.

This year, the park became a nature reserve and hunting with guns was banned, allowing the boars to multiply further.

The archers, meanwhile, are disappointed. They saw their role as a "social service" and had mapped out a careful strategy under which lone shooters would target animals at close range to ensure a quick kill. And they would not waste the succulent meat, Mr Martinez said. "Wild boar is tastes very good," he said, "But... you have to prepare it well."