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German Pigs

The Wall Street Journal

DECEMBER 16, 2008

In Berlin's Boar War, Some Side With the Hogs

City Appoints Urban Hunters to Track Streetwise Swine; Three Pigs in Day Care

BERLIN -- Gabriele Klose simply couldn't let the hunter kill the wild boar running around her flower store. Not after it looked up at her with big, innocent eyes.

The hairy beast was one of thousands of wild boars that have discovered the charms of urban living in Germany's leafy capital city. When the creature trotted out of rush-hour traffic one morning last month to root around the flower store, Ms. Klose's first thought was: "That is one ugly dog."

After a second glance, Ms. Klose phoned the police for safety -- and a local tabloid for publicity. The police called in Matthias Eggert, one of a crack band of hunters with license to kill hogs in urban areas. But Mr. Eggert's plan to dispatch the boar appalled Ms. Klose. The hunter says the tabloid reporter brandished a camera and warned him he'd have the whole of Berlin on his case if he pulled the trigger. Mr. Eggert sensed a PR debacle, so he phoned around until he found an animal sanctuary 40 miles from Berlin that granted the boar asylum and named the swine "Amanda."

Mr. Eggert, a 55-year-old forestry official, fumes at Berlin's "vegans and whatnot" who are, he thinks, too sentimental about the city's pesky boars. "If we don't get brutally pragmatic, the problem is going to get totally out of hand," he says. Berlin's wooded parks, suburbs and increasingly mild winters make it Europe's capital city for sus scrofa, the wild, tusked ancestor of the domestic pig. The booming population of porkers has Germans on the run, reversing the natural order of things.

Boars like to dig up worms and grubs with their snouts, churning manicured gardens into muddy battlefields. They've plowed up parks, cemeteries and even the training ground of Berlin's major-league soccer team, Herta BSC.

Police Protection
The swine are an obstacle on Berlin's streets, where 211 have died in traffic accidents in the past eight months. But despite the porcine problem, part of Berlin's human population is siding with the boars against those who shoot them. Urban hunters have been beaten with sticks, called "murderers" and had their tires slashed. Mr. Eggert once had to call for police protection when a crowd of young partygoers, enraged after he shot a boar that had been wounded by a car, threatened to beat him up.

The boars are usually peace-loving. But 250-pound adults armed with sharp, upward-curving tusks can be dangerous if they think they're cornered. In October, when hunters shot a tusker in a cornfield south of Berlin, the wounded animal counterattacked, killing one man and injuring another who'd come to finish it off. Every year in Berlin several dogs are gored to death after rashly challenging boars to a fight. On one occasion, three boars got lost in a day-care center on Alexanderplatz in the heart of Berlin and panicked. The children hadn't arrived for the day yet, but the boars nearly gored the janitor.

The growing threat to life, limb and lawns has led Berlin to take extraordinary measures. In 2002, City Hall began appointing special Stadtjäger, or "urban hunters." Some are police by day, others are veterinarians. A couple, like Mr. Eggert, are foresters. Their quarry is streetwise.

"Some swine know the city better than we do," says Mr. Eggert. "They know every gap in a fence, every abandoned building they can hide in."

Firing a hunting rifle in the city is a tricky business. Hunters have to decline risky shots: A bullet that ricochets off cobblestones can fly a long way. But hunting in the forests around Berlin isn't enough to control boar numbers. Too many boars live in town full-time because they've figured out it's safer, says Derk Ehlert, City Hall's special commissioner for wildlife. Other boars relocate to the suburbs only on weekends during the hunting season, returning to the forests on Mondays when the hunters and dogs have gone.

"Boars are extremely smart," says Mr. Ehlert, a trained biologist. "If they weren't so smart, they wouldn't be so successful."

Hunters have shot over 500 boars in urban areas since April, but boar numbers keep rising. Up to 7,000 now live in the city, Mr. Ehlert estimates. "There is no way that hunting can get rid of them all," he says. "Ultimately we must learn to share the city with the swine." The key to peaceful coexistence is no fraternizing, says Mr. Ehlert.

One pack (called a "sounder") of boars took to hanging out at a playground in Berlin's posh Dahlem district. The chief sow sunbathed on the warm tarmac of a main road, holding up traffic, while her striped sucklings played with children.

"If one piglet had squealed because a kid had held it wrongly, the sow would have attacked," says Mr. Ehlert. He had police cordon off the playground while hunters gunned down the entire sounder in front of shocked residents.

On a recent snowy evening, Mr. Ehlert stopped his van near a derelict U.S. listening station on a hilltop in former West Berlin. During the Cold War, the U.S.'s National Security Agency eavesdropped on the Soviet bloc from here. Now the hill is crawling with boars. One by one, they emerged from the trees, grunting in expectation, until 15 plump hogs surrounded the van. "Someone is clearly feeding them," says Mr. Ehlert. That's illegal, because it leads to inappropriate boar-human mingling.

Pig Food
Some Berliners are defying the law every night, bringing boars food out of affection for the beasts. Unemployed truck driver Michael Gericke opened the trunk of his white Mercedes and tossed corn onto a parking lot. A score of hogs scrimmaged over the spoils. One tried to climb into the trunk.

Mr. Gericke says he has been feeding boars here every night for 12 years, making him the doyen of Berlin's boar-loving underground. Every two weeks he spends €15, or about $20, of his jobless benefits on a 110-pound sack of corn. "Feeding them corn diversifies their diet," he says.

Only a handful of people have come out to feed the foragers on this December night. In summertime, says Mr. Gericke, hundreds of Berliners show up.

Berlin's forestry officials say they're filing charges against Mr. Gericke that could lead to a hefty fine. Mr. Gericke says that won't stop him, because he can't pay anyway. "Even if they send me to prison instead, I won't stop."

His loyalty to boars stems from an epiphany he had years ago, when he opened his car door and a large tusker he'd been feeding hopped in. "I thought he was going to bite my leg off," says Mr. Gericke.

Instead, the boar put his head in Mr. Gericke's lap. "It was as if he was saying, 'Thank you,'" Mr. Gericke says.

Mr. Eggert, the hunter, thinks it's time Berlin's authorities got tough. He says: "We should just gather hunters at the these feeding sites, make the civilians stand aside, and feed the swine with lead."

Re: German Pigs

First: The obvious solution

An alternate solution

I had especially appreciated Trafalgar Square this summer without everything being covered with pigeon feces. The best thing Ken Livingstone ever did was reduce the pigeon population in London.

Re: German Pigs

5 hospitalized after boar attack in Poland

WARSAW, Poland - Polish police say five people have been hospitalized after they were attacked by a wild boar in a Warsaw suburb.
Police say the injured include two children. Warsaw police spokesman Marcin Szyndler said Friday that none of the injuries were life threatening.
Police warned residents of Zabki, a Warsaw suburb, to keep away from the woods into which the boar retreated. Hunters were called in to track the animal down.

Re: German Pigs

... and I thought this was a thread about Lufthansa!

Re: German Pigs

Only if your wife's name is Nelly.