Ultimately, it was more of a wild goose chase than a wild boar hunt. After almost four hours of combing the fields and woods for the "Missing Wild Boar of East Anstey" yesterday, the local hunt was forced to admit failure.
Only one boar had been rooted out of a copse by the combined efforts of the huntsmen, a small pack of foxhounds and a somewhat larger pack of locals on quad bikes, and returned his rightful home at Woodland Wild Boar Farm near South Molton.
Somewhere out there in the beautiful valley on the edge of Exmoor were between 50 and 60 of its companions, already fully adapted to life in the wild, less than two weeks after their release from the farm by, it is claimed, animal rights activists.
"We know they are there but we've absolutely no idea where," Denis Woollacott, the chairman of the Dulverton Farmers Hunt, admitted. "Still, we've all had a lovely day out in the country, haven't we?"he added, grinning at the assembled mud-splattered media representatives.
About 40 out of the 100 boar released have been recaptured, but the remainder are likely to become as much a part of a local landscape as the sheep and cattle in the fields, deer in the woods and buzzards circling above.
The hunt may have another crack but the consensus of opinion among locals was that using otherwise redundant foxhounds was always a bit of a gamble - foxhounds being principally trained to seek out, well, foxes - and it was now going to be down to farmers and others to deal with the boar as they saw fit. Which is likely to mean a little discreet night-time "lamping" and, for some, a full freezer. Four of the original escapees are believed to have been shot.
"I'm told they cook up nicely,"Rex Milton, a farmer, confided at yesterday's exercise, sporting a red boiler suit under his tweed jacket and hoisting a gun holder over his shoulder; he would be allowed to shoot one if it was a threat to himself or his animals.
Mr Milton watched as the hunt noisily searched a copse called Cuckoo Mount. Like many farmers he has encountered the boar almost casually wandering around the woods. "We were out pheasant shooting here on Boxing Day and there were two of them a few feet away. Two of my dogs didn't sense them - although a sheepdog did,"he says, pointing out the damage the boar do to his fields by rooting for grubs. He says they have been stealing from the feeders put out to fatten pheasants; others claim they have been feeding from livestock troughs. A group of 38 was seen on Tuesday in a wood scoured without success yesterday, suggesting the boar are either indifferent to the clamour of the hunt or had simply moved.
Their presence is something the farmers will have to get used to, suggested Dr Martin Goulding, a wild boar expert on hand to help. "Frankly, I never thought they had a cat in hell's chance of getting them with hounds. It is too late now: for the first couple of days they would still be looking for humans to feed them, but now they are capable of fending for themselves."Although they might disturb game birds, they were not likely to be a serious danger to livestock or humans and would eat only dead animals, but prefer grubs, nuts or berries.
The boar, he added, were likely to start breeding in the spring; any shot by farmers would be sufficient only to keep numbers down. "They are very intelligent, resourceful, adaptable animals. And there's no reason why they cannot carry on living here: they are, after all, a native breed."
What is more, he said, they can jump a five-bar gate like a deer and run at 30mph, faster than the hunt's quad bikes. "I call them the Houdini of the captive livestock world. You can be a few feet away and still not see one."He points to Cuckoo Mount's undergrowth: "There's probably one there now..." And, if the hunt's efforts are any yardstick, it is likely to stay there for some time.Reuse content