The Washington Post

Wild boars roaming Rome must be killed, officials say

Authoritie­s have begun a cull in recent months over fears that the boars could spread African swine fever, which could endanger Italy’s pork industry

- BY STEFANO PITRELLI IN ROME

Wild boars have emerged as a force of chaos in Italy’s capital over the past decade, feasting on refuse, disrupting traffic and encroachin­g on the Vatican.

They are seen as symbols of urban decay by some or just as cute piglets by others. In one meme, a boar replaces the shewolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, Rome’s mythical forefather­s.

But their days could be numbered. In recent months, authoritie­s have begun a cull over concern that the boars could spread African swine fever, harmless to humans and pets, but deadly to pigs raised commercial­ly, a sector that supports some 100,000 jobs. Fear of the virus has already prompted several countries, including China, to impose costly import bans on Italian pork.

A government task force created in March set in motion plans to reduce the country’s boar population — estimated in the several millions — by 50 percent, after carcasses infected with African swine fever were found in northweste­rn Italy earlier this year, followed by more recent cases, including in Rome. Efforts to wipe out the virus could be an uphill battle.

“I don’t see the eradicatio­n of the disease as a possibilit­y, unless you bring about a strong reduction of the [boar] population,” says Angelo Ferrari, an expert assigned by the government to address the boar crisis. “The thing is, there’s just too many of them.”

Even as some boars are culled, others continue to reproduce and enter Rome via nature reserves and parks that extend deep into the city, lured by the chance to feast on trash.

They travel together. “The wild boar is not unlike us: smart, social, lives in groups, super adaptable, omnivorous: It’s an animal for all seasons, and habitats,” says Luigi Boitani, a zoologist at Sapienza University in Rome.

The wild boar population in Europe has spiked sharply in recent decades due to “a combinatio­n of factors” including high reproducti­on rates and lack of large predators, according to studies, and they have increasing­ly shown up near parks and forested areas in urban centers such as Rome, Berlin and Barcelona. The problem drew worldwide, albeit brief, attention when the singer Shakira said she and her son were accosted by a pair of wild boars in a Barcelona park in 2021. The creatures grabbed her bag containing her mobile phone and took off into the woods, she said.

The numbers have grown beyond what predators such as wolves could control, Boitani said.

The plan in Rome, according to Ferrari, involves letting the virus make its way through the wild boar population inside a designated “red zone” near the city center, sealed off by special nets and gates. Some trash cans are being modified to keep boars out. More than a dozen traps have already been installed outside of Rome’s Great Ring Junction, the orbital motorway encircling the city, with more to follow.

The task “wouldn’t necessaril­y require ‘cowboys’ to go prowling trigger-happy around Rome, but surely we’ll need the help of hunters” with licenses, Ferrari said.

In Piedmont, where the virus was detected in early January, authorized “selective hunters” have already put down around 3,500 boars. In Rome, the cull that began in late June is soon set to shift into high gear.

Neither treatment nor vaccine has been found as of yet for the African swine fever, which kills 98 percent of swine infected. Because the virus can survive on surfaces, even in soil, signs have been appearing around Rome’s designated zone, west of the river Tiber, asking park visitors to sanitize their shoes once they leave.

The threat to the Italian pork industry is so dramatic that at the end of May, farmers across the country held protests to call for a government response. If the disease makes its way into hog farms, pigs raised for meat will have to be culled as well. Farmers demonstrat­ing in Rome, wearing boar masks, crouched in imitation of boars, chanting: “The boar needs be stopped!”

In early June, David Granieri, head of the local chapter of the Coldiretti farmers’ associatio­n, told The Washington Post that two infected pigs had been found in a small farm within Rome’s city limits. Some 1,200 pigs had to be culled.

Around Rome, Granieri said, there are tens of thousands of pigs at risk. But the more serious threat is that infections could break out on massive pig farms to the north. “Just think of the San Daniele prosciutto and of the prosciutto of Parma,” Granieri said, referring to well-known cured meats. “It would get very serious, very quickly.” So far, more than 14,000 farm pigs have had to be eliminated across Piedmont and Liguria as a precaution­ary measure.

The spread of African swine fever would jeopardize a sector that brings in more than $20 billion in annual revenue, according to official estimates. “It’s an industry of fundamenta­l import,” says deputy health minister Andrea Costa. For that reason, the government has allotted an initial figure of some 15 million dollars to secure pig farms. “We’re quite worried,” Alessandro Utini, head of the Parma Ham Consortium, which protects the Prosciutto di Parma designatio­n, told The Post.

Import pauses on Italian pork on the part of China, Japan and others have already wrought $20 million worth of damage, the consortium estimates.

Farmers and Italian authoritie­s are concerned that a U.S. pause could come next.

Well before the Italian outbreak, the virus had already begun to spread among pig population­s in China and several Northern European countries.

Italy’s planned cull has been met with resistance from animal rights groups.

“Killing them should only be a last resort,” says Roberto Vecchio, head of a local anti-hunting league, who argues that the boars should instead be sterilized — which he calls an unnatural but bloodless solution — and carted off to be set free.

Meanwhile, the boars of Rome continue to make the city their own, cooling off in fountains and lounging on sidewalks. A few have attacked people, but in some neighborho­ods they are still adopted by local communitie­s and given nicknames.

 ?? ANDREAS SOLARO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES ?? A boar family runs from a fire in Valle Aurelia park in Rome on July 4.“The wild boar is not unlike us: smart, social, lives in groups,” said zoologist Luigi Boitani.
ANDREAS SOLARO/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES A boar family runs from a fire in Valle Aurelia park in Rome on July 4.“The wild boar is not unlike us: smart, social, lives in groups,” said zoologist Luigi Boitani.
 ?? ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES ?? A wild boar in Rome in September 2021. The spread of African swine fever would jeopardize a sector that brings in more than $20 billion in annual revenue, according to official estimates.
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES A wild boar in Rome in September 2021. The spread of African swine fever would jeopardize a sector that brings in more than $20 billion in annual revenue, according to official estimates.

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