HONG KONG, China – As Hong Kong prepares to celebrate the Year of the Pig, the city is facing its own peculiar porcine pickle – a furious debate about what to do with its growing and emboldened wild boars population.
Best known for its densely packed skyscrapers, Hong Kong also boasts large tracts of subtropical mountains and parkland that host a thriving number of Eurasian wild pigs.
And increasingly humans and pigs are meeting face to snout.
Boars have been filmed running alongside vehicles on roads, jogging down beaches filled with sunbathers, sniffing the tarmac at the city's international airport – and even falling through the ceiling of a children's clothing store.
Easy pickings from rubbish bins and open air barbecue pits as well as humans deliberately feeding them have enticed the wild animals to leave their trotter prints across a growing swathe of the concrete jungle.
The situation has some people rattled.
"They are dangerous to pedestrians as they rush down the hill. They pose threats to the older and the weak, hazards to the traffic and hikers," local councilor Chan Chit-kwai, who wants to see steps taken to reduce the wild boar population, told AFP.
"It's not as easy as those people saying we can all just live in peace," he added.
City authorities say the number of sightings and nuisance reports caused by boars has more than doubled, from 294 for all of 2013 to 679 for the January to October period last year.
Injuries have been reported. In October, two elderly people were bitten by a wild boar near a public estate while 4 months earlier two people needed stitches after they were attacked near the University of Hong Kong, local media reported.
The city's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) is now considering euthanizing "high risk" wild boars that are deemed aggressive or have a record of attacking human.
"In those cases, we would use drugs to enthanize the wild pigs," conservation officer Cheung Ka Shing told reporters. The agency has also sterilized 54 wild pigs who regularly appear near urban areas and relocated 92 others to more remote locations.
Some local politicians have proposed more active measures such as introducing predators, legalizing hunting and even relocating pigs to an uninhabited island – the latter idea getting short shrift given pigs can swim.
But many balk at harming the boars.
Near the entrance to Aberdeen Country Park on the main island, a wild boar family of 3 is snoozing under warm sunlight – a trio of elderly Hong Kong residents playing cards just a few meters away.
"I'm not scared. As long as you don't poke them or throw things at them, it will be fine," said 73-year-old Mr Fung, one of the 3 said.
"They have made the Aberdeen country park an attraction," explained another park regular, 70-year-old Mr Lai, who said he encounters boars often while hiking.
"As long as you don't attack them, they won't offend you. It's too brutal to kill them," he added.
The AFCD said they do not have an estimate of the total population of wild pigs in Hong Kong but country park camera surveys have recorded an increase in number and a wider spread than 20 year ago.
Experts say the wild boars' diet is 90 percent plant based and that they have no need to be fed by humans, who they would normally avoid.
"They shouldn't come to people for food, nor to attack. Their aggressive behavior would be an act of self-defense," said Chan Po Lam, a wetland and fauna conservation officer at the AFCD.
In the Aberdeen park a banner warns visitors not to feed wild animals.
But some ignore it. During AFP's visit a man scattered pieces of white bread on the grass, soon drawing a thankful boar from the bush.
"I believe people feed wild animals out of kindness, but encourages them to hang out in human communities more often," said Chan.
Veronique Che, from the Hong Kong Wild Boar Concern Group, says the animals shouldn't be blamed for being more visible given the urban sprawl increasingly encroaches on their natural habitat.
"Many problems related to wild boars are actually created by humans," she said.
Just down the road from Aberdeen Country Park is a public housing estate with residents waiting for buses on a narrow winding roadside.
The local boars have burrowed under a metal fence separating the forest from the housing estate to look in the rubbish bins for food.
As a group of boars appeared, local took photos on their phones while children greeted their hairy neighbors with excited "oink" noises.
"There should be harmony between human and wild boars. Human shouldn't treat wild boars as threats, nor as pets," Che said. – Rappler.com