Radioactive Boars On The Loose In Germany

Melissa Block talks to Charles Hawley, editor of Spiegel Online International, about Germany's radioactive wild boars, which were contaminated by the meltdown at Chernobyl.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

(Soundbite of wild boar)

BLOCK: That is a wild boar, and I'm Melissa Block.

We often present what we call cute critter stories on this program. This isn't one of them. Rather, this is about radioactive wild pigs in Germany. These wild boars eat mushrooms contaminated by the radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of a quarter century ago.

Charles Hawley, editor of Spiegel Online International, joins us from Berlin to explain. Charles Hawley, how much of a problem are these wild boars?

Mr. CHARLES HAWLEY (Editor, Spiegel Online International): Well, the wild boar problem has certainly been growing in recent years. The population has been skyrocketing. The number of wild boars is estimated to be around 2.5 million in Germany, and the numbers of those shot by hunters has more than doubled in the last two years.

So there are certainly a lot of wild boars, and as they multiply, they come into contact with humans more often.

BLOCK: What kind of contact?

Mr. HAWLEY: Well, there are stories of them bursting into supermarkets. Occasionally, they'll break up a church meeting. Quite often they'll be causing car accidents, that kind of thing.

BLOCK: And they're radioactive to boot.

Mr. HAWLEY: Quite a few of them are indeed radioactive, mostly in southern Germany. That was sort of the major fallout zone of the Chernobyl disaster, and so as a result, there's quite a bit of radioactivity still in the ground.

BLOCK: So they're not getting more and more radioactive, it's just that there are more and more boars, is that it?

Mr. HAWLEY: Yeah, part of the problem is yes, there's more and more boars, which accounts for an absolute increase in numbers of radioactive boars, but those who live in the forest particularly are eating mushrooms and truffles. And as the radiation sort of sinks into the earth, the roots of truffles and mushrooms tend to collect them more.

So there is actually a slight increase in the amount of radioactivity in mushrooms and truffles in Germany, which accounts for boars in the forest certainly becoming more radioactive.

BLOCK: Aha. Well, what is Germany doing about this?

Mr. HAWLEY: There's not much you can do about it. Certainly the hunters who have a certain responsibility for keeping the boar population down are being compensated by the government for meat they are not able to sell because it's too radioactive.

BLOCK: How popular is wild boar as something to eat in Germany?

Mr. HAWLEY: It's quite popular. Everyone likes a boar sausage every now and then, and it certainly appears on menus across the country.

BLOCK: And in German, it's called?

Mr. HAWLEY: Wildschwein.

BLOCK: Wildschwein, I'm thinking is wild pig.

Mr. HAWLEY: Wild pig.

BLOCK: You know, we're talking about the radioactive effects on pigs. I'm wondering about what's known about the radioactive effects on the people in this part of Germany themselves.

Mr. HAWLEY: Well, it's not so much of a huge danger for people. Generally, radioactivity builds up over time in people. And if you're eating boar every meal that has never been checked for radioactivity, it could be a problem over time. But most people, of course, are not. And so the limits that the government prescribes for radioactivity in foodstuffs are relatively low.

BLOCK: Well, how big of a story is this there in Germany, these radioactive boar on the rampage?

Mr. HAWLEY: You know, boar are always a story in Germany.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HAWLEY: The periodic trouble that boar get themselves into make good headlines. And the radioactive angle crops up periodically. I noticed that in 2006, there was a brief spate of stories, and this year, there have been a number of stories, as well. But it certainly hasn't been dominating the news cycle. But people are concerned.

BLOCK: But good employment for you.

Mr. HAWLEY: Certainly, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Charles Hawley, thanks for telling us about it.

Mr. HAWLEY: Thank you very much for your time.

BLOCK: Charles Hawley is editor of Spiegel Online International. That is the English-language website of the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

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