WARSAW, Poland (AFP) — Polish authorities on Thursday denied any plans to wipe out nearly all Poland’s wild boar to stem an outbreak of disease threatening its pork industry as petitions against a mass cull drew hundreds of thousands of signatures.
Environmentalists and scientists have warned that a mass cull set for the last three weekends of January could upset the ecosystem and even inadvertently spread African swine fever (ASF), which is deadly to wild boar and pigs.
ASF was first spotted in Poland in 2014 when infected wild boar entered from Belarus.
“No order was given to eliminate wild boar, the (hunting) plan was drawn up like every year,” Polish environment minister Henryk Kowalczyk told the commercial broadcaster TVN.
He confirmed figures published by Poland’s PZL hunting union that it had killed 168,000 wild boar since April last year, part of its quota of 185,000 boar for the 2018-19 season.
“This isn’t much compared to previous years,” he said, pointing to PZL statistics showing 308,000 kills in 2017-18 and 282,000 in 2016-17.
Kowalczyk also denied reports that authorities had ordered hunters to shoot pregnant sows or sows with young, something that sparked ire among environmentalists and hunters.
He pegged Poland’s current wild boar population at 250,000, adding that the fertile species has a 250 percent annual rate of growth.
Nearly half a million people have signed petitions against the January cull launched this week on the Avaaz online activism site and by Poland’s Laboratory for all Beings.
Over 800 top Polish academics have also signed an open letter to right-wing Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki calling for an “immediate” halt to the cull and recommending “alternative actions” like disinfectant mats on pork farms to stem the spread of ASF.
Hunters themselves have warned that wolves could begin to prey on farm animals like sheep or cattle should they have limited access to wild boar.
ASF was detected in around 3,200 wild boar and affected pigs in over a hundred locations across Poland between February 2014 and last summer, the Polish PAP news agency reported.
A leading pork supplier in the European Union, Poland exported $1.1 billion worth of the meat in 2017, according to statistics compiled by the International Trade Centre.
African swine fever (ASF) is not harmful to humans but causes haemorrhagic fever in pigs and wild boar that almost always ends in death within days.
There is no antidote or vaccine, and the only known method to prevent the disease from spreading is a mass cull of the infected livestock.
© Agence France-Presse