Germany’s Radioactive Wild Boar

By Francine McKenna on Email

Casual strolling through Germany’s many beautiful forests is an enjoyable and popular national pastime, normally with sightings of wild boar, deer or some other flora or fauna either nearby, or somewhere in the distance.  However despite looking like furry pigs and being passive by nature except when panicked, in recent years pillaging wild boar, or Wildschwein, have become something of a problem, not only the large numbers now living in the forests but those invading gardens, parks, cemeteries, roads, entering schools and shops, and occasionally attacking people and pets, causing accidents and wrecking cars.

Thanks to ‘climate change’ with its warmer winters encouraging them to breed at a time when in the past it was too cold and lacking in food to do so, together with the large quantity of the type of crops cultivated for bio fuel such as corn, there has been a wild boar population boom in the country, with one survey claiming that whereas in other countries a wild boar litter averages four or five, in Germany they average six to eight, sometimes nine, piglets.  Charging through fields searching for food, they create large masses of ploughed up soil damaging farm machinery, causing problems and delays with harvests, and leading to suggestions by farmer’s associations ‘to bring in the army’.

An idea that the hunting fraternity just as swiftly rejected as, ‘waging war on wild animals’. They plan instead to add to the hundreds of thousands of wild boar that are already caught each year, many of which, especially when served as Wildschweinbraten, wild boar roast with dumplings and red or white cabbage, are a much loved meal in Germany and end up on the country’s dinner tables.

Hunting as a sport and occupation is widespread throughout Germany and strongly regulated, requiring the passing of written and oral examinations in everything from comprehensive knowledge of the environment, conservation and wildlife, to shooting ability, before a licence is granted. Consequently the recently publicised problem affecting wild boar, particularly in southern parts of the country, was quickly detected. Many of them are radioactive.

Only slightly radioactive but nevertheless, almost a quarter of a century after the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in the Ukraine in 1986, when several areas of Germany, particularly Baden Wurttemberg and Bavaria, were affected by fallout, there has been an increase in the number of wild boar with excessive levels of radioactivity being caught which, as each is tested by Geiger counters at one of the dozens of testing stations, are then deemed unfit for human consumption.

Although the land cultivated with crops in these areas no longer has a problem with radiation, the wild boar are vulnerable because they spend much of their lives with their snouts rummaging around in forest soil, which, despite the passage of time, is still contaminated, while searching out their favourite foods in which they overindulge whenever possible, mushrooms and a type of, non-edible by humans at least, truffle, both of which absorb and retain radioactivity very easily.  This however does not mean that wild pig will disappear from the menu for Germany’s Wildschweinbraten lovers any time soon, or that consumers are losing their appetite for wild boar sausage, pate or any of their other porcine favourites.

In one form or another Wildschwein has always been considered such an integral part of celebratory, and typical, German cuisine that during his presidential visit to Germany, and despite the fact that he had probably often enjoyed a wild hog barbecue in Texas, George W. Bush was offered as a state dinner, a Wild Boar barbecue.

The German Atomic Energy Law, the country’s nuclear energy regulator, arranged that hunters are compensated by the government in Berlin with between Euro 100 and Euro 200 for any affected animal they hand over, and, as the huge number of healthy wild boar being culled because of the population boom drives the market price lower than this, pleasing consumers but not necessarily the huntsmen, this is often far more than they would receive through normal trading channels.

For a German huntsman the killing of an animal is traditionally followed by a few minutes of silent reflection of both sadness for the life taken and joy at his, or her, success, so this compensation not only softens any blow at having killed an affected animal but ensures that no radioactive Wildschweinbraten will find its way onto German dinner plates.

An experimental programme in Bavaria has succeeded in decreasing the number of infected animals by feeding them Giese salt, a mixture of chemicals which accelerates the release of radioactive substances from the body, however as a problem this is not one that will be going away any time soon.  It is now thought that, as a result of that explosion in Chernobyl’s reactor IV, the wild boar population in certain areas of Germany will probably have to continue living with the threat of being infected with radioactivity for another 50 years.


Source: Bella Online
Photo by m einauge via flickr 

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Francine McKenna