Wild boars win se­lec­tive sym­pa­thy in Hong Kong

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

Wild boars were spot­ted late last month on a slope just a stone’s throw from the South Wave Court res­i­den­tial com­plex. For­tu­nately this time no in­juries were re­ported, un­like an ear­lier en­counter in Tse­ung Kwan O which sent two men to hospi­tal.

Last De­cem­ber one ran loose on the tar­mac at the air­port where it was fi­nally caught but not be­fore mak­ing in­ter­na­tional news. Un­for­tu­nately, de­spite the best ef­forts of our pig catch­ers, it had to be put down. The year be­fore, one was caught in a Chai Wan shop­ping mall. This time, the boar was spot­ted in Tse­ung Kwan O, so it only made the lo­cal news. Hap­pily, a dozen of Hong Kong’s finest man­aged to track it down and catch it with­out hav­ing to kill it but not be­fore the boar in­jured a cy­clist and po­lice of­fi­cer. Hats off to the team that risked in­jury to sub­due the beast with­out harm­ing it. The fact that Hong Kong has a ded­i­cated team of of­fi­cers and ve­teri­nar­i­ans equipped with tran­quil­lizer dart guns at the ready when a hog is spot­ted in the city speaks to the lengths our gov­ern­ment will go both to pro­tect the pub­lic and the pigs. How­ever, this care­ful con­cern for our porcine wildlife presents a strik­ing con­trast to the treat­ment of their do­mes­tic cousins that ap­pear fre­quently on our plates.

Clearly the boars that oc­ca­sion­ally stray into ur­ban ar­eas are among the lucky mem­bers of their species here in Hong Kong. Usu­ally, once the boars are caught, they are taken to an an­i­mal man­age­ment cen­ter in She­ung Shui, where ve­teri­nar­i­ans tend to their wounds. Then they are re­leased back into the re­mote coun­try­side after be­ing nursed back to good health. Hong Kong even has a Wild Boar Con­cern Group, which, as its name sug­gests, serves as an ad­vo­cate for the wel­fare of these an­i­mals and mon­i­tors the sit­u­a­tion when boars are caught in the city.

Surely the pe­cu­liar­ity of these sto­ries about wild boars mer­its some me­dia at­ten­tion, es­pe­cially given the ur­ban lo­ca­tion of the pigs’ cap­ture. On the other hand, there is an­other ab­sur­dity hid­den in the story, and that is the dou­ble stan­dard with which we treat the close cousins of our wild boars.

Re­cent sta­tis­tics show that just less than two mil­lion pigs are slaugh­tered each year to sat­isfy the ap­petites of our 7.4 mil­lion peo­ple. In other words, the av­er­age per­son here in Hong Kong eats the equiv­a­lent of a whole pig once ev­ery three or four years.

In­deed, we Homo sapi­ens are om­ni­vores. Many parts of our body in­di­cate we are meat eaters. The binoc­u­lar vi­sion of our eyes is the same as that of all preda­tors. We have ca­nine teeth like other preda­tors, although they have evolved to be not so sharp over the eons. And our taste buds have evolved to en­joy eat­ing meat. All of this, cou­pled with the fact that pigs hap­pen to be tasty, sug­gests there is lit­tle wrong with en­joy­ing pork and ba­con.

How­ever, when we com­pare the lives of the wild boars caught at the air­port and Tse­ung Kwan O, and then re­leased in the wild, with the lives of the ones that end up on our din­ner ta­bles, the dif­fer­ence is stark. Our lo­cal wild boars eat, sleep and mate to their heart’s con­tent in our coun­try­side liv­ing a mostly healthy ex­is­tence un­til they die a nat­u­ral death after 10 to 15 years in the wild, pro­vided they stay clear of our ur­ban jun­gle.

Com­pare that to the do­mes­tic pigs that ar­rive on our dim sum carts as bar­be­cued pork buns. Iron­i­cally, it is the baby suck­ling pigs that are the lucky ones be­cause they are slaugh­tered after about a month. The un­lucky ones get to live un­til they are close to full grown be­fore be­ing slaugh­tered — at about six months — but that ex­is­tence is sin­gu­larly mis­er­able.

So maybe, in a sense, the spe­cial cod­dling of our lo­cal wild boars makes sense after all. In or­der to ap­pease our col­lec­tive guilt, the kind­ness we show to our wild hogs may rep­re­sent a to­ken for­give­ness to­wards a few, while the vast ma­jor­ity of the same species is treated woe­fully.

The au­thor is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Ed­u­ca­tion Univer­sity of Hong Kong.

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