Wild boars win selective sympathy in Hong Kong
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.