African Swine Fever, wild boars and nervous German farmers – no easy solutions for man-made problems

by Frank Krumm & Johanna Strieck & Gesche Schifferdecker

The German Farmers Association (DBV) demands a 70 percent reduction of the wild boar population, after the African Swine Fever is threatening to cross borders in eastern Germany. In case of an outbreak, German pig farmers will face severe economic consequences, as they are the ones with the most to lose. DBV’s vice president Werner Schwarz explains, that the farmers will have to stop exporting pork products to third-member countries, meaning non-EU members. This will cause for substantial losses in the export sector, possibly amounting to billions of Euros.
Consequently, this sparked an outcry from the DBV. The Swine Fever, like many other diseases, thrives on high host density, so that a radical population reduction in wild boars is the only logical answer according to Schwarz.  This demand is not only drastic but also rather unrealistic, knowing the animals and their intelligent and strong population dynamics.

This problematic has to be taken seriously, but the solution has to address multiple sources. At the moment, hunters take most of the heat in the discussion throughout Germany. It is true that hunters have sincerely neglected the call for a population reduction throughout the past years, the main source for transmission however originates from processed meat and unsanitary transportation – man-made so to say, explains Hilmar Freiherr von Münchhausen from the Deutsche Wildtier Stiftung to the German Newspaper ZEIT. Appeals for large-scale boar catchments for example or bounties for hunting trips remind of pest control rather than anything else, says Münchhausen – a hunter himself. Eckhard Fuhr, journalist and author, only partly agrees in his article on the blog Wolfsmonitor. Putting the sole focus on hunting wild boars as the answer would be too short sided. To determine this approach as counterproductive however is also misleading. According to Fuhr, wild boars will continue to breed until the capacity of their habitat is maxed out. This scenario is highly unlikely, considering the gigantic output our current agricultural industry is producing – thus providing lots of food for wild boars. Shooting the animals would not only reduce the population, but will minimize the danger of transmission, says Fuhr.

However, it is quite unlikely that wild boars would contaminate pigs at big farms, says Daniel Lingenhöhl from SPEKTRUM.de in his recent article. Modern fattening installations are usually strongly seperated from the outside-world. Only authorised people are allowed to enter the facilities. Yet, the infection is mostly caused by contaminated food waste or pork products, or by indirect ways of transmission, like animal transports, contaminated machines or clothes, so Lingenhohl.

Finally, we have to consider other important contributing factors like urbanization, with its favorable climate, managed gardens, yummy household waste and of course an endless source of food in the form of corn, due to a dramatic increase in demand for bio-fuel.

The current discussion is very significant for a global trend, where one party (in this case the hunters) is expected to take on full responsibility for a complex development, which in fact involves a multitude of stakeholders. Furthermore, these mechanisms are often driven by so-called “alternative facts”, diverse emotions and interests. However, it is crucial that all stakeholders involved discuss interrelated questions of diseases, wild-life and hunting in the forest collaboratively. And the discussion needs scientifically based arguments. If ecosystems and productive areas are supposed to be transferred into a more resilient environment, this seems to be a precondition for successful change. We therefore promote to foster mutual understanding. One of the recipes is to talk to each other instead of blaming other stakeholder groups.

One well received example for collaboration and exchange between practitioners, scientists and administrations of different hierarchical levels is the European Forest Risk Facility. Dealing with questions like wildlife and hunting as well as storms, forest fires and other natural or human-caused disturbances, the Facility collects and distributes data for a better understanding of forest risks to support effective collaboration and coordination of relevant national bodies and facilitate the exchange of good practice, ultimately leading to better-informed political decisions on matters relevant to forests and forestry. Following a ‘connect-collect-exchange’ principle the project team and collaborators implemented a number of case studies, expert exchanges, trainings events, workshops and delivered mutual support. The vision of a European Forest Risk Facility is currently also supported by the EU-funded project ‘NetRiskWork – networking for the European Forest Risk Facility’, targeting the development and formation of regional and thematic network nodes and focal points.

2 comments

  1. Very interesting piece and indeed, a complex problem. The same discussion has been taking place in Poland for a few years now. It is one of the main reasons for the growing tension between farmers, hunters, and foresters.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In between all the advises, experts and opinions we can observe a troublesome tendency in the media and public opinion that hunters (mostly private hunters that already pay a hunting lease and wild boar damage compensations!) could solve the problem by reducing wild boar numbers. Laws and regulations are changed, artificial light is now allowed, night vision equipment will be soon….all this is helping to correct the misguided wild boar management of the past years, yes, but is surely not solving ASP. Furthermore, the public discussion and focus on the hunters is creating another burden for hunters, is creating the impression that up to now they had no incentive to reduce boar numbers…(ah, now it becomes complicated as some hunters indeed had no interest to reduce numbers..). However, we have to many wild boar in the first place, with ASP or not. Society should have a high interest to reduce wild boar numbers for many reasons, the authorities should support hunters (check Switzerland where night vision equipment is financed by the authorities!). Instead the average hunter is paying hunting lease, damage compensation, is blamed by the farmers and should now invest in more equipment and more time. This ASP discussion should indeed help to create more understanding and support of the role of hunting for society, biodiversity and resilient forests…

    Here some truly expert advise on ASP:
    English: https://www.fli.de/en/news/animal-disease-situation/african-swine-fever/
    German: https://www.fli.de/de/aktuelles/tierseuchengeschehen/afrikanische-schweinepest/

    Like

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