Berlin Calls On Volunteer Hunters To Cull Wild Boars

Berlin is known as the "wild boar capital" in Germany, with thousands of the animals roaming its residential neighborhoods. In the past, the city and animal rights activists battled over hiring hunters to kill the streetwise swine, who cause a lot of damage. But with attacks like the one in late October in which four people were injured by a male boar, curbing the wild pig population in the German capital is a growing priority.

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Berlin may be the capital of Germany but to those who live and work there, it has another distinction. It's the capital of wild boar. The tusked creatures roam the city by the thousands, tearing up parkland and occasionally clashing with humans. In late October, a boar attacked and wounded four people outside an apartment building, including a policeman who later shot the animal.

As NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports, the city and many of its residents have run out of patience.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Wild boars in Berlin are shy creatures that prefer to stay out of sight. Not a single one is visible inside this tree-filled enclosure at a city park that's supposed to provide a safe viewing experience. But then they noticed human visitors arriving with food.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOARS)

NELSON: Three of the shaggy, gray beasts rushed to the fence, each of them weighing at least 200 pounds. They shove one another to get at the snacks.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOARS EATING)

NELSON: The frantic chewing highlights their obsession to find and consume food, especially during the colder months. That search draws the animals deep into the German capital and its vast expanses of forest-like parks. They also seek out residential complexes where people feed them, despite the threat of hefty fines.

MARC FRANUSCH: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Berlin forester Marc Franusch says many more residents are angry at the boars because of the damage they cause.

FRANUSCH: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He describes how wild pigs rooting for bugs routinely tear up municipal parks, private gardens and cemeteries. They've even damaged the pitch of Berlin's professional soccer team.

(SOUNDBITE OF BARKING DOGS)

NELSON: Encounters with dogs that often run free in Berlin despite leash laws also agitate the otherwise elusive boars. The attack here in the leafy Charlottenburg District highlights another problem.

(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLES)

NELSON: Cars. Officials here say the boar that wounded the four people was injured on this road before he charged.

(SOUNDBITE OF RINGING PHONE)

NELSON: Forester Franusch fields daily phone calls about the pigs, mostly from residents seeking relief.

FRANUSCH: (Through Translator) They are shocked to learn that we won't rush over and get rid of the animals for them. Frankly, that's not necessary nor is it realistic. We instead offer detailed tips on how they can better protect their property.

NELSON: But the swine have become enough of a problem that the city has called on volunteer hunters to cull hundreds of the animals each year. Veteran hunter Peter Felkse was recently hired to organize a kind of hunter rapid reaction force, to respond to boar emergencies around Berlin.

PETER FELKSE: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: In the eastern neighborhood of Marzahn, with its Soviet-era apartment blocks, Felske shows the forester on a map where the pigs did the latest damage. The 53-year-old hunter points out a sprawling patch of mud that once was a grassy knoll in one of the community's parks.

FELKSE: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Felske estimates that six boars destroyed the acre-sized plot in as little as 30 minutes. He plans to come back with one or more volunteer hunters to shoot the offenders. He adds that it won't be easy.

FELKSE: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Felske says the pigs are incredibly smart and that they've started feeding late at night to avoid the hunters. He adds that having to hunt boars in an urban area, where dog-walkers and joggers are out in force, is difficult. The proximity of people and houses requires city hunters to kill each pig with a single shot, and to do so in less than half the distance they do in the forests surrounding Berlin.

Despite the precautions, many people here are uncomfortable with city hunts.

ANITA MAU: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Fifty-six-year-old Anita Mau, who lives in the same neighborhood where the boar attacked, says she believes killing the animals is wrong.

Neighbor Peter Fischer adds that no matter what steps the government takes, he believes the pigs have already won.

PETER FISCHER: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Fischer says the removal of the heavily guarded Berlin Wall that once divided the city during the Cold War allows wild boars to come and go here as they please.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin.

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