With a police officer wounded and the presidential palace breached, the Pakistani capital has launched a fresh offensive against a uniquely feared enemy in the Muslim country — the city’s ever-expanding population of wild boar.
Each night, packs of the hairy beasts emerge from Islamabad’s riverbeds, parks and scrubland to rifle through the overflowing rubbish bins of its mostly wealthy residents and the growing number of restaurants.
City authorities are laying poison and have announced free hunting permits to cull the wild pigs’ numbers, but to make sure residents don’t get caught in the crossfire, they only allow shotguns. There have been few takers. Hunters are wary of getting arrested by the police, or even worse — getting mistaken for a terrorist.
The animals can weigh up to 100kg and have razor-sharp teeth. Adult males come armed with upward curving tusks. While they scurry off at the site of humans, they charge when cornered, alarmed or wounded and are a major cause of traffic accidents in the city.
The latest chapter of man versus hog played out in a city center police station last week.
“Someone shouted ‘watch your back’ but before I could look round the animal had hit me,” said Sajjad Hussain, who was on duty when the animal slipped in past the high, razor wire-topped blast walls after guards opened the gates to let in a car.
Hussain had a gash in his stomach that required eight stitches and is on medical leave.
The swine was even more unlucky. In his rush to escape, he bounded into a large pit where police barracks are being constructed. Trapped by high walls, he was an easy target for officers out to avenge their wounded colleague. Not quite a fish in a barrel, but close.
“The pig was like a terrorist. We shot him down,” station chief Fayaz Tanooli said. “I have told the guards if another pig gets in then they will be dismissed.”
The hogs have also encroached upon the lavish, not to mention tightly-guarded, houses of the president and prime minister.
A team has been dispatched to lay poison mixed with molasses or maize, said Malik Aulya Khan, the city’s environmental chief.
“We are making special efforts. We have killed many with poison,” he said. “Somehow they enter under the fences.”
Wild boars are found all over Pakistan, and are one of its major agricultural pests, gobbling their way though millions of dollars of wheat and sugarcane crops. In Punjab province in the 1980s, the government initiated a bounty system whereby villagers were paid for each tail they delivered, but it was discontinued for lack of funds.
Islamabad was built from scratch in 1951 on scrubland that runs up against the Margalla Hills, meaning wild boars have always lived in or close to the city. However, their numbers have grown along with the city and its human inhabitants, and there are now around 800,000 from just 100,000 originally.
The meat of the wild boar is prized in many countries, but has no value in Pakistan because its consumption is forbidden under Islam. The country’s often persecuted and tiny Christian and Hindu populations don’t keep pigs or eat wild boar either. That has helped ensure the animals thrive.
The animal’s abundance has made the country a prime spot for boar hunting, said Qaiser Khan, who leads hunting parties to Pakistan, including teams of foreigners who like to shoot hogs. He said that teams must sign a contract stipulating they will not cook the meat or ask staff to do so.
He said hunting in Islamabad was unlikely to get many takers because it was not “worth the hassle” of coordinating with police and city authorities. Moreover, shooting hogs with a shotgun was dangerous because the hunter had to be up close, and the weapon risked wounding, but not killing, the animal, he said.
Professor Rashid Ahmad Khan trapped and killed more than 1,700 pigs during three years of research into the problem in the 1980s.
He said that poisoning and hunting were both unsuitable methods of controlling the population, and instead advocates removing their habitat. Cutting down brush in which they hide during the day, fencing off the many streams that crisscross the city and better management of the trash that spills out of rubbish bins and around the back of restaurants in the city will help reduce their numbers.
“If we are not doing this, it will be impossible to weed out the animals,” he said. “They are flourishing.”
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