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Wild boars in Hong Kong! It's true – they're roaming the city
A few weeks ago, the family encountered some unusual neighbors: a trio of wild boars.
The boars now regularly wander along the road that leads to Walsh's apartment complex, in a favorite spot next to a nearby footpath and hang out in the local playground.
"They're super tame and friendly," says Walsh, but adds that she always keeps a watchful eye on them when she has her twins in tow.
Encounters like hers are becoming a regular part of Hong Kong city life.
The number of boar sightings and nuisance reports has more than doubled in the past five years, according to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD).
The beasts, which can weigh up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds ) and can reach up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) in length, have recently run amok in Hong Kong's financial district, roamed among airplanes at Hong Kong International Airport and wreaked a havoc in a shopping mall.
Police trying to capture and boar in Hong Kong's financial district in 2017. ” class=”media__image” src=”http://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/170625040505-hk-wild-boar-large-169.jpg”/>
Jungle in the concrete city
Hong Kong is renowned for its dense urban areas and dazzling skyscrapers.
Most of the development of Hong Kong Island is confined to a coastal strip
Almost all of the development on Hong Kong Island is squeezed into a narrow strip of usable land around its perimeter. For residents here, it is only a short step from the concrete jungle to the subtropical rainforest that flourishes on the steep, rocky hills of the interior.
Thanks to this, snakes, monkeys and porcupines are all spotted in residential areas.
In the 20th century, tigers still prowled parts of Hong Kong, but since they died out, the largest wild animal found here is the boar – and native wild pig.
A group of boars out for a stroll in Hong Kong
A group of boars out
A group of boars out for a stroll in Hong Kong. for a stroll in Hong Kong ” class=”media__image” src=”http://cdn.cnn.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/190129131829-20190129-hong-kong-boars-group02-large-169.jpg”/>
What is clear is that the boars – who were once solitary and secretive – are starting to lose their fear of people.
Rachel Duffell is a runner who frequently encounters boars on trails near her home in Quarry Bay, an urban district on Hong Kong Island.
When she started running in Hong Kong, in 2012, she rarely encountered boars. If she did, they would retreat but now, "even if I clap and shout, they just keep coming to me and I'm the one to turn and run in the opposite direction," she says. "My fear is clearly greater than theirs."
Are the boars dangerous?
There have been only 10 recorded cases of wild boars injuring people since 2014, according to AFCD – but half of those incidents occurred last year.
In January this year, the University of Hong Kong warned staff and students to be on their guard following two wild boar attacks near the campus, according to local media. At the end of last year, two seniors were beaten and bitten by boars at a housing estate in Kowloon
Boars have sharp teeth, and large males are equipped with vicious tusks.
The animals, however, are "not generally aggressive," says Howard Wong, director of the City University of Hong Kong's veterinary school. "But like most wild animals if you corner them, they will react," he adds. "And you definitely want to avoid a mother with piglets."
If a wild boar feels threatened, it will charge, says Wong, using his head "like a battering ram."
Why are the boars coming to town?
Garbage bins are a lure. The boars are toppling them in search of food, leaving rubbish strewn over pavements.
"Pigs are creative – they're one of the smartest animals," says Wong. "Once they know it works, they will keep doing it." Last year, a clip of a monster-sized boar raiding and dumpster in Hong Kong went viral on social media
But the main reason for urban invasion, says Wong, is that "well-meaning individuals are feeding them."
He believes this reflects a cultural shift. As animal welfare has become a more prominent issue in Hong Kong, people are redefining themselves as animal lovers.
Walsh says she has seen local workers feeding the three boars that live near her apartment complex.
Veronique Che, an advocate of the Hong Kong Wild Boar Concern Group, believes that another factor is urban expansion. In the 1960s and '70s, the development of cities in the New Territories – the northernmost region of Hong Kong – led to the boars' natural habitat being built over and converted to farmland, says Che.
"Boars, along with Hong Kong's other wild animals, were squeezed out."
The government has considered some wacky solutions to the boar problem.
One lawmaker suggested releasing natural predators into the wild but, as AFCD points out, anything big enough to kill a wild boar – such as a lion or tiger – would threaten humans.
Another official floated the idea of moving the boars to uninhabited islands – but that's not good because they are good swimmers, according to AFCD
Culling has also been discussed. Two civilian hunting teams were previously authorized to shoot wild boars but were stopped in 2017 due to concerns about animal welfare and public safety.