The Black Knight of the Forests - Wild Boar

The Black Knight of the Forests - Wild Boar

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Within the frame of our section dedicated to #animalsofBaikal we will tell you about the wild boar — the Eastern symbol of the current year and the inhabitant of Baikal, by the way, this animal survived all the geological disasters and was a contemporary of the mammoth.

Wild Boar, Aper, “Cutter” and Wild Pig

Of course, it is no coincidence that this animal will be the hero of our story. The year 2019 is represented by the astrological sign of the Boar (or Pig - according to the Tibetan calendar), and the wild boar, being not the most common inhabitant of the Baikal coast, is, nonetheless, considered the embodiment of perseverance, courage, bravery in the Siberian region... Russian fairy tales often depict boars as evil, ferocious beasts that are dangerous for others. But it is worth recalling that boars were among the first animals domesticated by humans, alongside with horses, dogs, goats. Their vitality is surprising in all aspects.

The wild boar has survived all geological disasters, being a contemporary of the mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, Irish elk and cave bear.

Wild boars “prefer” tropical, mountain, oak forests as the most comfortable places to live in; they also like places with high humidity, including swampy ones.

It might seem that the lands around Baikal lands do not really fit into such description. However, it is obvious that these places are the northernmost territory on the planet where wild boars live (in fact, the northern boundary passes along the upper reaches of the Olekma River and turns to Vitim). The main area of the habitat of these animals is the triangle Angara - Irkutsk - Baikal. Wild pigs can be met in Irkutsk Oblast from Slyudyanka to Taishetsky District, on the left bank of the Angara River. They are listed among the wild ungulates of the region with the smallest number and the most narrow habitat: the number of the species amounted to about six thousand animals in hunting areas (in 2017). In Buryatia wild boars live on the slopes of Khamar-Daban turned towards Baikal, in the island forests between the rivers Selenga and Nika, in the upper reaches of the Barguzin...

A unique case is known, when a boar managed to get to the Olkhonsky district several years ago: the animal reached the bank of the Buguldeika River and became a kind of attraction: it was prohibited  to hunt the traveler.

Kondraty Ryleyev: “The Table under the Fat Boar is Cracking...”

Does this line written by the poet of the Catherine epoch correctly describe the modern boar of the Siberian forests? Most probably, it does not fully correspond to the reality. Local boars have always had smaller size than the animals of the same species living elsewhere and weighing up to 320 kg, in many respects this fact is due to the special character of the severe life conditions: they make regular sufficient nutrition impossible. But their weight and appearance are still striking.

And the children’s verse, where “a wild boar looks like a pig: the same piglet, hoofs, back, ears, and tail shaped like a hook” doesn’t have anything to do with the reality. The appearance of the wild boar is very different from its domestic relatives, as well as from other ungulates. In general, they say that there is not a single wild animal having even the slightest resemblance to the wild boar.

The wild boar is a powerful and strong animal. Unlike domestic pigs, it has a shorter and thicker body, thicker and longer legs; besides the boar’s head is very large, wedge-shaped, with an elongated muzzle; the ears are also longer, straight and sharp. The neck is short, thick and non-mobile, which makes the head visually inseparable from the body. The tail is short, standing upright, it has virtually no resemblance to the pig’s curl of a tail.

The animal’s hair is exceptionally harsh, looking like bristle. Hair color ranges from dark gray, even black, to brown. With the onset of winter, the boar’s “fur coat” becomes thicker, besides, a dense undercoat appears. Whereas the bristles are brownish black with an addition of yellowish tint, the undercoat is brownish gray, so the general color of the boar’s hair is gray and black and brown. In addition, the stiff elastic bristles, except for those growing on the lower part of the neck and lower abdomen, form a kind of mane on the boar’s back. And this high mane on the back of the neck continues with a prominent crest that stands on end when the animal is anxious, being one of the means for deterrence of enemies.

Boars have rather mobile “middle fingers”, as well as an expressed additional area of bearing surface marked by the hooves of the side fingers and the back of the sole. This enables the animal to quietly move on shallow snow and soft soil. The wild boar’s hooves generally have such structure that the animal confidently walks over marshy places without falling through or getting stuck. However, the legs are not very long:  this feature makes it difficult for the animal to walk over deep snow. Above all, the snow crust is also dangerous: the wild boar can easily wound its legs by it.

Old boars have rounded hooves: the shape makes their footprints on hard ground look very similar to that of male red deer.

Its Tusks Can Cut the Trees and Kill the Wolves

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The nickname “cutter” justly describes the abilities of this animal. The most remarkable body part of the wild boar is its tusks reaching about 25 cm by the time of the animal’s maturity. Namely these tusks give the boar a fierce and bellicose appearance. Wild boars do not have any baby’s teeth. They are already born all the teeth that remain there until the animals’ death, however, these teeth only grow and become stronger. Wild pigs are not predatory animals, but the structure of their teeth is fundamentally different from other herbivores. Four tusks of male boars, looking like dog’s teeth, protrude from the gums, bend outwards and have a pyramidal shape with extremely sharp edges.

Hunters state that these tusks are even whiter than ivory, and their size should deter the enemies. Upper tusks are usually smaller than the lower ones, the latter are used by male boars for defending themselves or attacking the enemy and working miracles: the wild boar breaks, stabs, thrashes and cuts with such force and dexterity that no animal can stand or remain intact after the terrible attack of boar’s tusks. Young boars with their teeth yet very sharp use them in such a way that they can cut a hunting dog into two. The boars use only the lower tusks for attacking, whereas the upper ones serve mainly to sharpen the lower ones, being in close contact with these.

Upper and lower tusks of male boars are constantly growing and are much more developed than those of females. However, boars also use the tusks for a totally peaceful purpose: the animal uses the tusks to get food by digging the ground in search of nutritious underground stems.

Slap and Dash, and Then the Animal Is Free

As we look at the seemingly clumsy body of a boar, it is difficult to understand this old hunters’ saying. But the boars run pretty fast, and they move well enough even through dense thickets. And the fact is that the wild boar sometimes gets through such thickets where a human cannot pass in virtually any way. Wind-fallen trees, brush wood, heaps of intertwined pieces of driftwood do not stop the animal. The boar manages to crawl into small cracks, pushing the giant fallen trees apart. In this respect a wild boar resembles a mouse: if its head gets through, it will be able to squeeze the entire body through. That is why hunters often find big splinters in the boars’ neck and shoulders.

These animals cannot boast of very good sight. But they know about the approaching danger thanks to their sharp hearing and great sense of smell. Black hairy ears turn at the slightest sound, and the black snout constantly inhales suspicious smells. They hear any noise at an extremely long distance, and you should never approach them in direction of the wind: boars will immediately notice you.

A wide river is also no obstacle for a wild boar. The animal can swim very well.

The Wild Boar’s “Armor Vest”

The neck and shoulders of the wild boar are covered with a kind of armor – a proliferating layer of connective tissue. This tissue grows especially big in November-December, on the eve of the rutting time. During this period of battles for females, an additional subcutaneous thick layer of fat and cellular tissue grows under the boar’s hard hide; even a knife cannot stab this layer. Even a bullet can get stuck there. Moreover, during the battles of male wild boars, these animals also “put on” an external “armor”. They rub their bodies against tree trunks, trying to smear themselves with resin. They lie down into puddles, so that the hair could freeze and be covered by a strong ice shell of water and mud.

The animal’s “armor vest” is a reliable protection against the attacks of rivals’ tusks during the period of violent fights. Such battles can last for many hours. Males go in circles, approach each other closely, trying to hit the rival in the ribs – the ice shell will come in handy here. Sometimes the tournament is watched by female boars: a real “harem” of the leader of the pack.

Boars also need protection for a more prosaic reason. The wild boar likes to take a bath in a pit filled with water and mud, not only because the animal is a fighter. Nevertheless, the wild pigs are not messy, despite common opinion. This is the animal’s way to protect itself from the heat and insects that get between the stiff bristles of its hair. The dirt gets dry and turns into a dense hard crust, which kills the parasites. Then the boars rub their bodies against the tree trunks, the dirt from their body falls off alongside with the insects bothering the animals.

Маленькие, полосатые, но не бурундуки

As a rule, the rutting period of wild boars begins in November - January, and the pregnancy of the future mother lasts for 120–130 days, at this, the first pregnancy last less that of an experienced parent. On the eve of the labor, the pig leaves the pack and is looking for a convenient place to build a “nest” for itself. It is a kind of dwelling with thick walls, soft matting, and a kind of roof usually made of dry grass or branches.

The young pigs will spend a minimum of first two weeks in this dwelling, not going anywhere, closely clinging to each other and the mother. The number of babies born in one litter and their weight, of course, are not always the same. There are usually 4–6 young pigs, but experts say that there are records – some female wild boars managed to give birth even to 12 pigs. Newborn pigs weigh about 600–850 g.

The newborn pigs are very cute, agile and playful. Piglets have a hair color entirely different from mature wild boars until the age of six months. The color of their hide consists of light, brown and yellow stripes. Due to this, the boars’ piglets merge with the surrounding terrain and, therefore, are almost unnoticeable to predators. Wild boars’ piglets become almost invisible in the forest.

When the piglets reach the age of one week, they start to go for a walk with their mother, and when they reach the age of two weeks, they learn to dig the ground. Piglets follow the mother everywhere, not separating from her and constantly grunting. The mother teaches her piglets to get their own food, digging the ground with their snouts. The mother feeds her offspring until the age of 3.5 months.

Whereas adult wild boars are courageous fighters, piglets are extremely timid. Even a slight noise or a cracking sound makes them run, without looking back, to find protection of their mother or hide in the bushes, grass or under the leaves. As the piglets hide under the protection of their mother, they usually stand under her belly, with their backs together and snouts apart, grunting like domestic pigs.

If the female boar feels that her piglets are in danger, the mother becomes extremely aggressive, attacking the enemy right away to protect her offspring; the pig bravely fights without any fear or self-pity.

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