As a child, Manuel Vázquez made his own arrows by collecting firework shafts left over after local fiestas and feathers from the henhouse. He made their iron tips in one of the blacksmith forges that still ran in his village. Vázquez went from playing childish games to filling his house with trophies won in 3D archery competitions, which consist of firing at targets set up in the forest. Fifteen years ago, he started to hunt wild boar, and has now become the coordinator of a group of archers that plans to help the regional Galician government sacrifice a family of wild boars that has settled in the city of Lugo.
They are invading the area and disrupting the ecological equilibrium Jacobo Feijóo, Agrarian Union
According to Vázquez, the group of 28 animals walk in file through the city at night, passing central landmarks such as the city’s Roman walls. The boars live in “the industrial area and places by the thermal baths, by the hospital, in sports pavilions and on the Rato river bank [...] and they’ll only go further,” he says. The growing presence of wild boar in the city is due partly to the fact that the weather has changed, meaning that mothers go into heat twice a year instead of just once and deliver an average of five piglets per birth in the spring and in the fall. But it is also because they have come under attack from hunters in the countryside, which has pushed the animals to seek refuge in the city.
The wild boar, which is found all over Europe, is considered a pest in many Spanish cities, and in Galicia, where mountains cover two-thirds of region, the animal has thrived. But while some groups argue that the animal’s population has doubled in less than five years, a spokesperson for the regional environment department says there is not enough data to determine how many there are in the city and whether the population is “growing, decreasing or staying the same.”
Every day, the region of Galicia receives four reports of traffic incidents caused by the wild animals, as well as other cases of damage to farming and livestock properties. In response, raids on wild boar now take place throughout the year, with more than 22,000 done each season. With no wolves or other natural predators, the hunter has become the wild boar’s main enemy.
If a wild boar is not hit in the heart, it can take hours for it to die
Pushed by their instinct for survival, the wild boar have gradually moved into natural parks such as the Dunes of Corrubedo (Ribeira, A Coruña) and Cortegada Island (part of the Atlantic Islands of the Galicia National Park), where hunting is prohibited. At low tide, the animals have learned to feed on clams and cockles. But the wild boar has also learned to flee to the city, to look for food in garbage cans and unearth public gardens in search of earthworms.
Their activities have been captured in multiple videos and photos, and shared on social media. At the end of 2018, some locals spotted “one group of eight and another of nine” near the Roman walls in Lugo. A few days ago, a woman counted “25 small ones” and another three wild boars were also seen walking in a line between police cars.
In the last few months, the animals have been also been photographed in other cities such as A Coruña and Vigo. Although the animals have caused only traffic accidents in peri-urban areas up to now, Vázquez believes they could cause more serious problems. “One day a child will go near a piglet and the mother will attack because females will defend their babies to the death,” he warns. The regional environment department plans to address the issue by placing secret traps in the city’s corners and authorizing night watches of volunteer archers. Other territories, such as Madrid or Vitoria, adopted the same method years ago to deal with a similar problem.
Volunteer groups from three different areas in Vigo have joined the ranks of Lugo’s archers. According to Vázquez, the archers are waiting for the go-ahead from the regional government to hunt the boars, but insists they will only do so if the traps do not work.
Jacobo Feijóo, the rural development secretary of Galicia’s Agrarian Union, has called for more resources to stop the wild boars before they reach the cities. According to Feijóo, they are “invading” the countryside and “disrupting the ecological equilibrium.” Feijóo also claims the animal is the main carrier of African swine flu, a deadly and viral disease that affects pigs and boar. This point has also been argued by the regional environment chief Ánxeles Vázquez.
The regional government’s plan to sacrifice the wild boars has raised concern among many environmental defense groups. Several of these groups have founded the Platform for the Ethical Coexistence with Wild Animals, and are demanding scientific proof that there has been an increase in the number of wild boar in cities. The platform has also criticized the “lack of transparency” in the “agreements reached between the regional government, Lugo City Council, the police force and the Hunting Federation,” and warned that the nightly hunts could violate regional law because there is no scientific evidence that the wild boar population presents an “unsustainable situation.”
Real hunters don’t kill just to kill. You don’t play with animals Manuel Vázquez, spokesperson for Lugo archers
What’s more, the Freedom Animal Welfare Association! and Franz Weber Foundation (FFW) have accused the regional government of falsely claiming the wild boar carry diseases. According to Rubén Pérez, the spokesperson for the Freedom Animal Welfare Association!, the health chief’s comments on swine fever had no basis other than to cause fear, given “there has been no documented case [of swine fever] in all of Galicia, let alone Spain.” The closest reported case occurred in Belgium.
The animal activists also criticize the regional authorities for including archers in the plan. According to United Left Senator for Pontevedra, Vanessa Angustia, who has taken up the cause, arrows inflict severe pain on the animals. If an arrow pierces their lungs, the wild boar will die from asphyxiation. If the animal is instead hit in the stomach, it will not die immediately and will suffer for many hours. “It is an extreme cruelty inflicted to stop a conflict that has been blown out of proportion,” she says.
“Real hunters don’t kill just to kill. You don’t play with animals,” says Vázquez. “A firearm is much more destructive and dangerous. In my life I have killed about 50 wild boars and have always shot from 10 meters away so as to not miss and I always aim for the heart.”
English version by Asia London Palomba.