Wild boar attacks in Barcelona spark calls for ‘hunting expedition’

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Shakira said in September two wild boars had attacked her and destroyed her bag, putting the mammals in the international spotlight. The Spanish city, a favourite among British holidaymakers, is one of many European communities struggling with large populations of the infamous mammal.

The local government says it is doing all it can to bring them under control — it has claimed so since at least 2017 — but any attempts to reduce encounters between residents and the boars have proved unsuccessful.

Shakira, who lives in the Catalan capital with her husband, Barcelona football player Gerard Piqué, and their two children, told her more than 70 million Instagram followers: “Look how they left my bag, the two wild boars that attacked me in the park.

“They were taking my bag to the woods with my phone in it. They’ve destroyed everything.”

And the singer is not the only one.

In August, an older man sued the Barcelona City Council after a boar bit him during a walk with his family. He had to go to A&E, where a 5cm wound was treated.

He wants “those responsible to reach an agreement to take the appropriate measures to control the population” of the pigs.

In a nearby location, a woman suffered from a similar incident.

And at the Carretera de las Aguas, a gravel road that twists along the side of the Collserola mountains, which can be seen topping the city when turning the back to the sea, such encounters — luckily only rarely with bites — abound.

A popular spot among walkers, runners and cyclists, nearly everyone who goes up there regularly has had to dodge a group of boars at least a few times throughout the years.

While they are not immediately aggressive, the main fear is they carry tuberculosis and, as is reportedly the case for a third of Barcelona’s population, hepatitis B.

Sergio Sánchez Mateu, President of the Catalan Hunting Association, said this is the obvious result for animals eating from bins.

He noted: “They eat garbage, which is also why the populations keep growing.

“Without food, there is no reproduction.”

He said the species’ “exponential growth” in the city comes essentially down to two factors – the environment and the government’s approach to the issue.

On the one hand, urban settings have increasingly expanded, and temperatures have become more pleasant in recent years. On the other, there is something Mr Sánchez Mateu refers to as “political cowardy”.

He told Express.co.uk: “We believe the forest mass is growing due to rural depopulation, and intensive agricultural practices mean there is no competition for food in the forest.

“All the food the forest produces is for wild animals.

“To this, we add increasingly comfortable temperatures, with a less drastic difference between the winter and the summer…

“So, a wild pig that previously raised four young boars once a year today raises six to eight twice a year.”

These elements, Mr Sánchez Mateu explained, create an ideal scenario for wild animals, and while a contraceptive vaccine is being trialled, researchers point out a range of barriers to its potential in fighting overpopulation.

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Manel López-Béjar, head of the Department of Animal Health and Anatomy of the Veterinary Faculty of the UAB, and head of a pilot project to inoculate Barcelona’s boars, said the jab’s effectiveness loses efficacy a year after the shot is given to adults.

With young mammals, however, it is thought the vaccine’s effectiveness might be irreversible.

After the first stage of the study, which started in 2017, a second one is being launched in 2022.

With an investment of €40,000, it will focus on injecting four to six-month-old boars.

Nevertheless, even Mr López-Béjar does not think vaccinations will be enough to halt Barcelona’s overpopulation.

The City Council in 2020 admitted the rise in boar incidents was in large part attributable to a shortage in hunting activity – and that is where Mr Sánchez Mateu’s point on “political cowardice” comes in.

He said: “The reputation of the hunter, especially in urban settings, is negative.

“Hunters are seen as animal killers.

“In Catalonia, the government has increased hunting periods so they can go out for about seven months a year, but without positioning itself in favour of hunters.”

Mr Sánchez Mateu emphasised that without the government’s support, a generational succession of professionals is unlikely, which is highly damaging for the hunting community.

He continued: “They are pushing us to hunt more even though they know that if they don’t invest in the image of the collective, there is going to be a massive problem across Europe.

“It is a political matter.”

What it comes down to, he stressed, is “to tell the public that species have to be managed, of course always sustainably”.

He wonders: “How do you tell people a huge area is shut due to a hunting expedition?

“No one wants to assume the political cost that comes with that.”

But it needs to be done, he suggested: “This is not animal abuse – it is about ecological balance.”

It is also about safety, he said.

Mr Sánchez Mateu claimed: “Nothing threatens them. Dogs bark at wild boars and they don’t run away. They are not afraid of people.

“They have gone from hoping for food to demanding it, and some people, because it seems exotic, feed them.

“Locals [in Barcelona’s mountainous areas] are fed up with the roads outside their homes being destroyed and the dangers of a car accident.”

One thing is for sure though, Mr Sánchez Mateu said: “This should not impact tourists.”

He added: “They sometimes go down all the way to the beach and step onto a towel or two, which can be a bit of a scare, but holidaymakers will surely not bump into any pigs on the Ramblas.”

Barcelona City Council has been approached for comment.

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