French hit by a plague of pigs

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The Independent Online
THE GOOD news across France is that hunting for sanglier - the beloved wild boar - is terrific. Just about all other news related to the animals ranges from bad to catastrophic.

"They're destroying everything," grumbled Jeannot Romana, a farmer in Provence. "Wheat fields, fences, everything. It's a plague of pigs."

In one year alone, the French authorities have paid $20m (pounds 12.5m) to indemnify farmers and growers for "sanglier" depredations. From the Luberon to the Riviera, in the southern France, home owners report uninvited families of boar invading their land. Deep holes like bomb craters mar vegetable patches and flower beds. Electric fences won't keep them out.

Cross-breeding has added to the problem. In Aups, a mountain town north of Saint-Tropez wild pigs, breaking an age-old balance of nature, are eating up the truffles. Truffle gatherers used domestic pigs to find their treasure, quickly substituting an acorn as a reward before the pig could gobble up the profit. Boar left truffles alone.

When too much boar hunting caused a population fall a decade ago, hunters sent domestic sows into the woods to breed with the wild boar. The numbers shot up, but the hybrids love truffles.

Last year's parched summer, gatherers report, also killed off many plants that feed the boar. The animals were forced to dig deep for truffles, or anything else that they could find.

The National Hunting Office estimates the French boar population at 700,000, nine times the total 25 years ago, despite a kill of 322,000 in 1997 and an even greater number - still not tallied - in 1998.

"They tear up vineyards, gardens, crops, and you can't keep them out," said Yvon Creissac, a vintner near Montpellier, 250 miles west of Aups.

He blames hunters for destroying a natural balance. A pure sanglier female had one litter a year of perhaps three piglets, but hybrids can reproduce twice a year, with up to 20 babies in all, he said.

Florence Ferte, who hunts stags on horseback and follows the plight of game closely, recently visited friends near Aix-en-Provence and found the luncheon party was increased by six. "Right there at the pool, a mother sanglier trotted up with her five babies following behind," she said. "They acted like they owned the place."(AP)