A snuffle and rustle in the dense, forest undergrowth send the children, 6 of them on their way to Primary School on a lightly populated mountainside in Rawat, Bhurban, screaming and running for the small school building as fast as their short legs and heavy book bags will allow: They know, all too well, the source of the noise and, rightly so, are absolutely petrified!
They appeared, just one or two of them about 5 years ago now, migrating, it is thought, down from Nathia Gali to the Bhurban area when heavy winter snows closed the roads up there and hotels and restaurants closed down for lack of business. This meant, in turn, that the wild boar – these had arrived in Nathia Gali just a few years prior to this, migrating up the long valley from the Margalla Hills – were suffering from hunger pangs. So, down they came to an area with a large hotel with plenty of refuse bins to root in and, from there, spread out across the mountainside to breed and wreak havoc and fear amongst the local population, many of whom remain here all year round.
It is a well known fact that wild boar are extremely dangerous animals – especially so when they have young and they generally have 10 – 14 at a time. And, whilst there have not yet been any human casualties on this mountainside, the damage done and fear engendered are terrible yet. As tends to be the case, the Punjab Wildlife Department hasn’t done a damn thing to control this ever increasing invasion force which, from the original one or two, has multiplied to, quite literally, hundreds.
The houses here, away from the main road, are scattered hither and thither up, down and around the very steep mountainside where life is hard. And, thanks to raging inflation, getting harder by the day, plus, the vagaries of climate change are being hard felt. The vast majority, poverty stricken as they claim to be, do not bother to even attempt to cultivate any crops on the long ago terraced land. But, the few who do, no easy task I assure you, are now loosing whatever they grow to the depredations of the wild boar who are next to impossible to keep out.
Under cover of darkness – although they are occasionally seen during daylight hours too – the wild boar rip and gnaw their way through thick, extremely thorny undergrowth. This makes easily discernible ‘pig highways’ and then, with tusks, snouts and trotters, excavated tunnels underneath the stoutest, concreted in to place, interlinked, strong metal fences and, once in, smash and eat corn, dig up and eat root vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, carrots, mooli ect, gorge on pumpkins, tomatoes, capsicums and anything else that takes their greedy fancy. They also gouge up earth all over the place as they search for edible roots of wild plants and grasses. And, if a human happens to catch their attention, the only thing to do is run like hell and pray – wild boar are very fleet of foot – that they decide to give up the chase.
The villages are in a quandary: If they shoot a wild boar then, pig being haram, no one will touch it and the carcass will lie, stinking, in the open until it rots away or is slowly devoured by other wild animals, jackals and hyenas, for instance which no one wants to encourage to hang around habitations either as, along with children, there is livestock to be considered.
The wild boar problem has now become so massive that people – it used to be that evening visiting was quite the thing – no longer dare go out at night as walking around the mountain, mostly on hardly visible tracks, is suddenly a very dangerous occupation.
The big problem is what to do: Having already explained the haram situation, one can only presume that this extends to the Punjab Wildlife Department staff as well. Although, this is probably a fairly remote possibility, they do employ a few Christians who could, or who are brave and skilled enough as a wounded wild boar of full size is a veritable death machine, go out there and shoot them, then haul the carcasses away or bury them or whatever.
Putting out poison bait is a dangerously unreliable option as other wild animals, maybe even the few local leopards that are a protected species of course, would take the bait and die. Just as depending on the type of bait used, domestic livestock too and the overall outcome of poisoning could have terrible results and could, quite conceivably, end up polluting the local streams which double as the local, none too clean, water supplies for the majority of those living here.
On this mountainside the children, especially the tiny-tots, are most at risk as some of them walk, along otherwise deserted tracks, for many kilometers on their early morning way to school and then back again in the afternoon. Wild boar, dozens of them, have made a home in a deep, long running, nullah which runs close to one side of the smallest and most isolated of the primary schools here and, as daylight hours shorten and the children walk to school in dawn light, they will be in greater danger than ever.
The Punjab Wildlife Department must, really come up with a feasible solution and implement it to the full before something dreadful occurs.
The writer has authored two books titled The Gun Tree: One Woman’s War, The Parwan Wind - Dust Motes and lives in Bhurban.