Napa County is wild boar country.
These boars, also known as feral pigs, are a little-known but growing problem in the county’s remote areas.
To spotlight these predators of the underbrush, the Napa Sierra Club and Carolyn Parr Nature Center jointly sponsored author Jeffrey Greene to speak about them last month.
Greene showed slides and read from his book “The Golden-Bristled Boar: Last Ferocious Beast of the Forest” to a small but ardent group at the Carolyn Parr center.
An associate professor in comparative literature and English at the American University in Paris, Greene became fascinated with wild boars when he moved from America to France in 1986. After he purchased an 18th-century country home in Burgundy, a neighbor dropped off half a boar in a plastic bag as a friendly gesture. That’s when Greene discovered he’d moved to the most densely boar-populated area in Europe.
Greene’s research took him to Sardinia, Corsica, Tuscany and America as he explored the boar’s feral-pig counterparts as well as traced early legends and myths.
“Ten years from now you’ll be hearing much more about this animal, I guarantee you,” Greene said. “Do the math.”
Wild pigs can procreate at 6 months of age and each female can have two litters a year, ranging from five to eight babies.
According to Andrew Hughan from the California Department of Fish and Game, there is no way to realistically know how many pigs there are in Napa County.
“We know they are on the rise. With virtually no predators and recreational hunting on the decline, the pig population is definitely growing,” he said.
According to Hughan, wild pigs are shy around people, so are seldom dangerous. There is no record in this area of anyone being hurt by one. If someone encounters a foraging pig, they should shoo it away like any other animal, he advised. The chances of encountering a wild boar are remote.
Pigs can be taken by anyone with a hunting license, Hughan said. It is legal to hunt them in Napa as long as you have a hunter education course, have a valid California hunting license and a pig tag.
“A farmer or rancher who has a pig problem generally takes care of it themselves or knows someone with a gun and a license,” Hughan said.
In the 1740s, Russian and Spanish explorers brought domesticated pigs to California. Many of these domesticated animals escaped, becoming feral.
At one time, wolves kept the boars’ numbers down, but there aren’t enough wolves to offset the proliferation of wild pigs. If a mountain lion can’t find deer, it will, on rare occasions, kill a boar, Greene said.
Throughout the world, wild pigs are considered pests that wreak havoc on crops and livestock and destroy golf-course greens in search of worms.
“Boars create a hazard for drivers, causing over 14,000 car accidents a year in France alone,” Greene said. “During hunting season (in France), boars will on occasion run into homes and schools and demolish the furniture and classroom computers.”
Although Greene sounds a warning about the destruction caused by feral pigs, he admires “these outlaw” animals that are constantly in conflict with humans. They roam in strict matriarchal societies called sounders. The oldest female communicates through clicking sounds to her female lieutenants. Males are banished when they are a year old to wander, solitary, until finding another sounder for mating season.
Throughout history, boars have epitomized mystery and myth on six continents, Greene said. They’re nocturnal, elusive and beastly — they appear in “thrilling moments.”
Boars are so stealthy that they make less noise in a forest than a hopping blackbird, he said.
Greene has discovered mythological images of boars throughout the world. The title of Greene’s book was inspired by Gullinbursti, a fabled golden-bristled boar that was forged by dwarves, then given to the Norse fertility god Frey.
“The boar served as Frey’s soaring mount, its bristles lighting up the murky ends of the universe. The forest’s black beasts came to symbolize the returning light of the New Year,” Greene said.
On a practical level, humans owe a great deal to pigs. In many countries, pork is the primary source of protein. Insulin for diabetics used to be obtained from pig pancreases. Boar bristles are used for many purposes, including musical instruments and hairbrushes.
Wild pigs are 90 percent vegetarian but will eat anything with calories, Greene said. They annoy farmers by eating fields of potatoes and corn. They also eat grapes, chestnuts, acorns, snakes, mice and ground birds. Bobwhites and quail have decreased with an increase of wild pigs.
Most boars have the heft of a human. In this country, a rare 800-pound pig, referred to as Hogzilla, was discovered in Georgia.
Greene devotes a chapter to Julie, a pet boar owned by friends. In pictures, Julie appears to be part of the human family, but eventually she became too big for them to keep and it turned out sadly.
Fish and Game advises against having wild pigs for pets in Napa County. A housing permit from his department would be difficult to obtain for non-native species, Hughan said.
Greene’s book ends with a chapter of wild boar recipes that he and his guests say are delicious. Boar meat can carry diseases, so Greene advises wearing gloves during preparation. Cooking the meat makes it safe, he said.
Hughan agreed that boar meat is delicious and said he thinks it should be a menu item in more restaurants.
“Wild pig meat is really tasty. I was really surprised by how good it was,” he said. “Smoked wild pig bacon is amazing.”