Animal campaigners hunt for McQueen, the great escaper

A dramatic stand-off was developing on a small hill in Perthshire yesterday. On one side was Andrew Johnstone, a local pig farmer, and a group of anxious animal welfare campaigners. On the other, somewhere in 200 acres of woodland, was McQueen, an 18-stone boar which has been on the run since breaking out of an abattoir on Tuesday.

McQueen, named after the actor Steve for his part in The Great Escape, has already been spared death. His endeavours deserved nothing less. After negotiating the six-foot fence around Dunblane abattoir, the boar has eluded police, slaughtermen and rangers armed with tranquilliser guns to swim the fast-flowing Allan Water river and go to ground in the woodland, which forms part of a 600-year-old estate. Yesterday he was still there, hiding in the undergrowth living off nuts, grass, voles and worms.

Inspired by his determination to live, the actors Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove, who appear in the BBC television drama Judge John Deed, offered to pay £500, double McQueen's value in sausages, to allow the boar to live out his days at the Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Norfolk, which has already rescued more than 800 threatened animals.

A team of would-be rescuers has begun gathering in the grounds of New Kippenross House, an ornate Georgian mansion designed by William Adam in 1750.

It's been a long time since wild boar were hunted north of the border. Then it was done with horses, hounds and lances. Today animal welfare workers are considering using a helicopter, thermal imaging cameras, a custom-made honey trap and an expert tracker.

"We have to work out our next move carefully," said Yvonne Taylor of Advocates for Animals, based in Edinburgh, which is co-ordinating the mercy mission. "This could go on for days, if not weeks. We have started to assemble a small team of experts, including the farmer, as he knows the animal, the landowner, an expert animal tracker from England and a few selected volunteers from a local safari park. The last thing we want to do is have some sort of army thrashing about in the woods scaring the poor animal out of its wits.

"We are looking at all the options, including using a helicopter equipped with Army-style thermal imaging equipment to locate McQueen if at any stage it looks as though he could pose a danger to the public. We are also considering building a humane cage baited with food to draw him in, even using an in-season sow to encourage him to come out to mate," Ms Taylor said.

Many of the methods being considered were used in the hunt for the "Tamworth Two" – a couple of pigs which became international celebrities after escaping from a slaughterhouse in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, in 1998. They include the use of an expert tracker who arrived last night from Norwich to examine the terrain and plot McQueen's movements.

"We really need another confirmed sighting so we can decide what the best thing to do is," Ms Taylor said.

"Our greatest concern is to capture McQueen in the least stressful way possible, considering what he has been through already. He was literally in the slaughterman's hands when he escaped."

While the rescuers prepare their plan of action, Central Scotland Police have increased patrols around the area in the hope they can spot the animal before it is either harmed by someone or causes some harm if panicked.

The boar's legal owner, Mr Johnstone, 36, who runs Hilton Farm, near Bridge of Earn in Perthshire, where McQueen was hand-reared along with 200 other European wild boars, said the animal posed no risk to humans. "Boars are not aggressive animals and run away from people," he said.

"They are wild animals and can look after themselves very easily.

"His genes will make him revert to an animal that is used to living in a forest looking for food, but unfortunately our country is not really set up with the oak forests and the food he'd expect to find in central Europe."

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