Thursday, November 03, 2005


Seoul has had a number of visits from wild boars in the past month, where they have come out of the mountains and into the newspapers. In the English language press, the Joongang Ilbo has definitely found its niche as the online paper that reports on all things boar. If I sound like I'm poking fun, I'm not, really. I remember seeing a boar on a tv news show years ago (when I watched TV) and was fascinated, partly because they aren't to be found where I come from, and partly because Korea has very few large wild animals. Some deer, some reintroduced bears down south, and wild boars, and that's about it for larger mammals. All I've ever seen while hiking throughout Korea were a few chipmunks, a squirrel... and that's about it (though I did see a woodpecker last weekend while hiking at Bukhansan). A few of my students have seen boars in the countryside before; numerous photos of boars in Korea can be found here. A wild boar also played a rather important part in the hit film Welcome to Dongmakgol, the only Korean film I can remember seeing one in (for a photo, scroll down).

The first appearance of a boar (this year - the above link to boar photos makes clear that this has happened in past years as well) was on September 29, when one weighing 130 kilograms appeared in Southeast Seoul and injured two people before swimming across the Han river. By the time 90 police officers were mobilized, it had swum back across the river. Around noon, after a 12 hour 'spree', it was surrounded by police and killed by a hunter. A photo of it swimming across the river is here. Another Joongang Ilbo article from 4 days later stated that Seoul City officials had said that the 160 cm long boar would "be stuffed and displayed at Gildong Ecology Park in Gangdong-gu, Seoul in about 40 days". The official added that "Wild boars are rarely seen in the city."

Just over 2 weeks after this statement, on October 19, another boar appeared in the vicinity of the Walkerhill hotel, likely having come down from Achasan. After an hour long chase by police, it tried to swim south across the Han river and drowned.

(Pic from Hankyoreh)

Five days later, on October 24, a 200-kilogram, 150-centimeter long pig appeared on the grounds of Changgyeong Palace in central Seoul, causing the evacuation of 300 visitors before it was quickly killed by hunters. It was assumed to have come from the mountains to Seoul's north; after three sightings in such a short time, suddenly wild pig experts found themselves getting phone calls from media outlets.
A naturalist said that with tigers extinct and bears nearly so in Korea, the pigs face fewer natural predators and have multiplied quickly.
Choi Sung-gyu of the Korea Society for the Protection of Wild Animals said he thought that population pressure was driving more animals into the cities in search of food.

According to Environment Ministry, there are about 254,000 wild pigs in the country. They caused damage to crops estimated at 8.2 billion won ($7.7 million) last year. Some experts are urging a culling of the country's wild pig population.
With no less than three sightings in almost as many weeks, it was time for the Korea Times to edge into the Joongang's niche, with an article titled 'Citizens on Alert Over Wild Boars', which informed us of Seoul city's plans to establish an emergency task force in November to cope with the appearances of wild boars. An official said
"We will produce and distribute pamphlets and other materials that contain information on wild boars, such as their characteristics and habitats. Citizens should be well informed about how to handle the situation if they encounter boars"...

[A] researcher advised people not to run away or shout when they are faced with a boar on the street, adding that they should look straight into the boar’s eyes and promptly hide behind rocks or trees.
So there you have it, just in case you were wondering what you should do if you see one. The article also mentioned that "[f]armers and professional hunters usually hunt wild boars around this time of year to prevent them from gorging on harvest-ready crops." I was wondering how legal this was until I found this article, from last January, which said that "wild-animal hunting has so far only been allowed if beasts were found to be damaging crops or threatening farm animals and human life". The article said that hunters would soon be able to hunt them if they were damaging tombs.

On October 27, a boar appeared in an apartment complex in Inchang-dong, Guri city, on Seoul's eastern border, and ended up in an underground parking garage before running off, presumably back into the hills next to the apartments.

This suddenly became international news when Reuters covered the story on October 28, with the memorable opening lines "This wild piggy went to an upmarket hotel. This wild piggy went to an historic palace. And all the wild piggies were chased by South Korean police." The use of the word "invasion" and its somewhat misleading descriptions of the 4 sightings make it sound as if dozens of them are running amok in Seoul on a daily basis, which simply isn't the case. It certainly makes for good entertainment however, which is likely why the story has appeared in online news all over the world (just google it).

The most recent boar sighting was not in Seoul, but in North Gyeongsang province, on October 30, where a man driving an SUV driving from Daegu north to Andong suddenly encountered about 20 boars crossing the highway as he rounded a curve. Five 6-month old wild pigs (each weighing 50 kg) were killed when he was unable to stop in time and hit them. A (not entirely pleasant, though censored) photo of the aftermath can be found here.

At any rate, if they're becoming such a nuisance, especially in the face of a lack of predators, allowing hunting to cull the population might not be such a bad idea. According to this site, in 2004 the whitetail deer population in my home province of Ontario was estimated to be between 350,000 to 400,000 (and one might imagine that in an area of the province the same size as South Korea, there would be less than 254,000, the estimated number of boars in Korea); 80,000 deer were killed by hunters in Ontario in 2003. I have doubts that the boar population here could recover as quickly as deer in Ontario do, seeing as the terrain and settlement patterns are very different, but the stories above (and Antti's comment below) make clear that the boar population is getting a little too large, for both city and country dwellers. I can't help but wonder, if they are such a problem in the countryside, that people living there might be annoyed that the boar problem is only getting attention because it's beginning to affect Seoul...

(Hat tip to Lost Nomad for the Reuters link)


Kotaji provides some more information about the intimate link between the Joongang Ilbo and wild boars.


kotaji said...

Fantastic post. I've linked it over at mine.

Antti said...

We've also been hearing from my wife's father in Jinhae, Southern Gyeongsang that it's nowadays dangerous to go to the mountains because of the boars, which on top of that eat up all what people try to grow for themselves.

matt said...

Interesting that you mention the danger aspect, Antti, partially because I don't really understand the entire extent of the danger. A 130 kg animal with hooves certainly has the ability to knock someone over and trample them, but are there any other threats? Would they bite? The closest animals that would threaten people in Canada would be perhaps moose (large animals with sharp antlers) and certainly bears (large, fast, teeth, claws, and can climb trees). An animal that can't climb trees doesn't seem so fearsome, though 'Welcome to Dongmakgol' makes a good case for the fear a charging boar can inspire.

Antti said...

I think one can't underestimate the fears that people may feel about the possibility of being attacked by fierce creatures. (I understand that it's the bite that can be dangerous - the #1 google picture search hit on "wild boar" shows what kind of a set it has.)

Here in Finland, a country 30 times more sparsely populated than ROK, in one region children are taken to school by taxi because of the fear of wolves, even though its way over 100 years since a confirmed attack on humans by wolves has taken place.

(As a technical note, it'll be useful to have the word verification for comments on - my comment spam has ceased since I did that.)

matt said...

Thanks for the technical advice Antti; it's turned on now.

Good point about the fears people feel over wild animals; I'd thought about that myself, especially regarding Korea, which has so few large wild animals. I'd imagine (especially when the media blows things out of proportion) that boars would seem much more menacing here than in countries which have many wild animals. Having them encroach upon cities (full of people who generally have little contact with animals of any nature) makes them seem that much more frightening.

I'm still not certain that the species of boar here have such large teeth as in that photo - Some species elsewhere have large teeth, to be certain, but none of the photos labelled 'Korean boar' on that photo page I linked to show such large teeth (though they don't show them with their mouths open either).

matt said...

Regarding the question of Korean boars and teeth, the second photo on this page (of the boar that drowned on October 19) would seem to put the question to rest, if you look closely enough.