[URBANTH-L]NEWS: In Berlin's Boar War, Some Side with the Hogs
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Tue Dec 16 12:57:36 EST 2008
In Berlin's Boar War, Some Side With the Hogs
City Appoints Urban Hunters to Track Streetwise Swine; Three Pigs in Day Care
By MARCUS WALKER, The Wall Street Journal
DECEMBER 16, 2008
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."
The Battle Over Boars in Berlin
Thousands of wild, tusked ancestors of domestic pigs have discovered
the charms of urban living in Germany's capital city. Some humans are
happy to coexist, while others see the boars as a pest that should be
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.
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
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
"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
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
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
Only a handful of people have come out to feed the foragers on this
December night. In summertime, says Mr. Gericke, hundreds of Berliners
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."
Write to Marcus Walker at marcus.walker at wsj.com
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