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Victor’s pigs: pig-boar interspecies

Teeming with both wildlife and domestic animals thanks to their richness in fodder and forage, the aluvial plains along the Lower Danube can be fertile grounds for interspecies hybridization.

A telling example of productive  intermixing is the drift of pigs herded by Victor (a pseudonym), a forest ranger from Teleorman County in Southern Romania. The domestic white sow in the photograph was the result of interbreeding between a free range domestic sow and a male wild boar. Upon reproductive maturity, the sow, in its own turn, bred in the woods with another boar. Two of her spawns (the two adult boars in the picture) later paired up to conceive another litter of boar piglets (three of them pictured above). 

On the one hand, this three-generation swineheard is a living testimony to Mandelian genetics: the latent boar gene within the white sow manifested phenotipically in subsequent generations upon further mixing. On the other hand, it highlights the immense potential of the Danubian plains for fostering life forms that blur the division between nature and culture. Intermixing of the kind that fostered Costi’s herd occurs in an uncontrolled fashion, primarily among pigs and boars grazing in the wild. Industrial and subsistence pig breeders tend to avoid it, as hybrids grow at a much slower pace than purebred domestic pigs.

Wild boars thrive in the lush vegetation that grows along the shores of the Lower Danube. These omnivorous mammals find plenty of  fodder (roots, berries, larvae, earthworms, slugs, bird’s eggs, insects, small snakes, mice etc.), shade, and muddy waters in which to wallow and cool down in these woods and marshes. It is not uncommon for boars to leave their woodland dens when they sense peril from the part of humans or when they experience food stress. In such cases, they swim away from the shore to find sanctuary on the uninhabited islets that pepper the Lower Danube, where hunting is banned, and food is abundant. They are also known to swim across state borders, migrating between Romania and Bulgaria at will.  

In recent years, their numbers have been dwindling in these parts in Romania. This is partially due to hunting for sports. As local and international huntsmen relish shooting large tusked male boars for trophies, large game hunting parties are a profitable activity for the private organizations that manage hunting grounds in the area. Boars may also be shot to stop them from pillaging corn crops, given that their modus operandi in cultivated fields is to lay down entire rows of plants using their chests as plows before feasting on the cobs. To deter boars, the large multinational corporations that exploit the highly productive agricultural land in Southern Romania have lined many of corn crops with electric fences. Moreover, the outbreak of African swine fever in 2019, also led to scores of boars being culled to curtail the transmission of the virus to domestic pigs.

Victor’s swineheard demonstrate that human relations to boars need not be only adversarial and exploitative, but also peaceful and collaborative.  In this particular case, wild boars are not only a prized source of game for trophy seekers, a  menace to crops or carriers of viruses, but also function as a source of livestock. Victor and other herders of hybrid pig droves appreciate them for their heightened resistance to disease and for their leaner meat that has a distinctive gamy-flavor.

Text and photo by Adrian Deoanca

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