Even experienced boar watchers continue to feel some adrenaline when boars come close, not just because they are large and supposedly unpredictable, but to have a large native wild animal so close is without doubt one of the best wildlife experiences you are likely to have in the UK.
But to some people, their closeness creates intolerable anxiety. For whatever reason this exists, here is a typical example of an encounter in the hope it will help to relieve the fear.
You will be walking along a track, hopefully paying some attention to the beauty around, when up in front you see some dark shapes moving slowly at the verge. They never stay still, walking about slowly as though they are searching for something.
You squint to see if they are dogs or sheep, but you see a tail swish. It's about the size of a sheep, maybe a bit smaller. You start to realise these are boar.
Your scent will soon give you away, for Wild Boar have an incredible sense of smell. When they pick it up you will see their noses go up, sniffing the air to get a sense of your direction. This is often close to the end of the encounter, so take your photos now!
At least one of the boars will become more active now, usually a juvenile, and will walk towards you, maybe a little nervous, sometimes turning round to return to the others. The move towards you is for a better look, for they have very poor eyesight. Others may soon join in. It may take just a few seconds for this to happen.
Now, this is not aggression. They are not ganging up on you, but are being brave and facing their potential threat. They are like children now, excited and about to be proud of warning mum that they have spotted you. Mum may now join in, sniffing you and deciding whether to walk or run away. If she decides to run, she will belt out a loud grunt or snort, and turn tail. At this moment, all the younger boar will also flee at high speed away from you. It's all rush and noise, and you hear feet stampeding away. That's usually it.
Mum may stop shortly afterwards and take another look at you, maybe even walk back towards you. Again, this is not aggression. She is saying to you, "You saw how fast we are so don't bother following." She will either stay and start feeding again, or if you move towards her in the hope of a photo, she will grunt again and run.
You may have stumbled across a much tamer boar. In this instance the boar may come very close. However, small piglets who have not yet learnt from mum to fear humans, can also approach very close.
Sadly, thanks to some people who have fed the boar, this boar may walk straight at you in the hope of another handout. If you don't want this, stand tall and shout at her. Move towards her confidently but not aggressively, and she will probably move out of your way. If she follows you don't panic but keep walking away - she will soon get fed up. Just be confident, if she is tame she will not hurt you.
The fear of a boar attack has become legendary. Try and remember where this fear came from and you will soon remember something you read in the press, or was it the story from a friend of their encounter? How did their encounter end? Like the above we bet. Sadly, stories over the centuries from hunters have led to charicatures of charging boar with big tusks. Woe on the hunter who was afraid of such a docile creature. Better that he makes a story up of how fearsome the boar was, and how brave he was to kill it!
There are youtube videos of boar attacks. Take a look at how aggressive humans are, but be warned, they are not nice videos. Nearly all attacks are upon hunters who are cornering boar, or sending dogs to rip up the boar, or boar who have been pinned down by dogs and humans and are being stabbed with knives, or wounded by crossbows or an inadequate bullet.
Even in these terrible circumstances for the boar, the boar attack is very fast and is not a charge made from many metres away. The boar are close to the aggressor, maybe just a second or two away. Some videos show the result of the attack. A male thrusts upwards from the ground leaving cuts to the legs of the hunter before dashing off. This is the usual sort of video, as it is the males that hunters prefer. But males are far more shy than females and it is a very rare incident for a male boar to attack a human, even a hunter. Males do not stand their ground to attack. But females may if their piglets are threatened.
A female bites you. Her head doesn't lower. Instead, look for her shackles on the shoulders to rise and maybe her tail stand erect. She will also growl. If ever you see this sign, move away confidently, maybe reassuring her with soft words rather than screams or shouts. You may sometimes hear a growl from scrub where she is hiding with her piglets. If you ever hear growling in the scrub, don't wait to see her, go back immediately from where you came.
This is where dogs are a problem. If the female is nervous, and the dog is growling, barking or pulling at the lead, she may instinctively feel provoked and go for the dog.
It is testament to the boar that no dog owner has ever been targeted along with their dog. This should hopefully reassure us all that the boar mean no harm to well-meaning humans. If you have a nervous or aggressive dog and you come across a boar, it is very wise that you leave the area as quietly and quickly as possible. Again, a boar will not charge from hundreds of metres away, only from close quarters.
|If boar come close, keep aggressive dogs on the lead. Maybe let the more sensible dogs free so they can keep away. Above all, don't panic. They may pick-up on your fear and agitation. Almost all boar will not attack a well-behaved dog.|
Finally, here is a video of a recent encounter in the Forest of Dean. It is five juveniles who have obviously had their mother shot. You can hear the girl getting excited and also very anxious. This is very normal of a first close encounter. These boar are quite unafraid (with mum dead they will have to learn about humans the hard way) and do not run away as quickly as most. See how their noses and hackles go up. Sadly, she suggests throwing them some food. This is perhaps due to her conditioning of wanting to feed animals. [Edit: She has contacted FOTB to say she was worried the boar hadn't seen her or partner so she wanted to feed them to alert the boar to human presence and so stop them having a heart attack - see comments below.] As you see though, boar rarely accept food.
Please don't feed the boar! Just enjoy their company with excitement and a sense of privelege. Very few animals in the UK are as intelligent as these. They are learning to live with us very quickly. Can you learn to live with them? We hope so.
David J Slater