Germany on alert as swine fever nears border

Sniffer dogs, drones and electrified fences: Germany is deploying a full array of defences to stop boars from bringing swine fever into the country and avert a disaster for its thriving pork industry.

Germany on alert as swine fever nears border
A wild boar in Neuschönau, Bavaria. Photo: DPA

“The question is no longer if swine fever will come to Germany but when,” Torsten Reinwald, a spokesman for Germany's hunting federation, told AFP.

The virus is not harmful to human health but can cause deadly bleeding in domestic pigs and boars.

The only way of getting rid of it is through mass culling at farms — a nightmare for German farmers.

Half of Germany's pork production of five million tons a year goes to foreign markets, making it Europe's biggest exporter of the meat.

READ ALSO: 'No longer fearful': How wild boars are thriving in Berlin

It is feared that even a single case could wreak havoc.

“The probability that countries like China impose a total import ban is very high,” said Sarah Dhem, a representative of Germany's meat products association.

Dhem gave the example of a total Chinese import ban following a few outbreaks in Belgium last year.

Losses could run into billions of euros and the European market would be flooded with cut-price pork.

Farmers first began to worry when swine fever was identified at a pig farm in western Poland in November.

Drone patrols

But it was the discovery of a boar with the fever near the town of Nowogrod Bobrzanski — just 40 kilometres from the German border — that really raised the alarm.

As a result, German regions are pulling out all the stops.

In Saarland, near the French border, packs of sniffer dogs are being sent out to find dead boars so as to quickly remove any potential carriers of the virus.

A sign in Grimma, Saxony advises locals about the outbreak of Swine Fever and not to feed wild boars. Photo: DPA

In Saxony, which neighbours Poland, vets and emergency workers are holding drills in case of an outbreak and using drones and infrared cameras to find sick boars.

Further north, in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, 50 kilometres of electrified fence to stop boars along the border with Poland are being prepared.

But, fearing that a spread to Germany may be inevitable, Denmark is already putting up a fence along its own 70-kilometre border.

There have been several recent outbreaks of African swine fever in Central and Eastern Europe since 2014, which have devastated the local pig farming industries.

“Since it first appeared in Europe in 1957, the virus has almost always been brought into other countries through airports and ports. It has been exterminated everywhere except Sardinia” in Italy, said Sandra Blome, a swine fever expert at the Friedrich-Löffler Institute.

Sick boar risk

The irony is that Germany so far has profited from the ravages of swine fever at farms in China, where more than a million pigs have had to be culled.

That pushed up the price of pork imports, which are expected to more than double in volume in 2019.

Until now, the possibility of humans spreading the virus inadvertently — for example through discarded pork product sandwiches — was thought the most likely.

READ ALSO: Boar-lin: Why boars are being sighted more in the German capital

Even though it has no effect on humans, the virus can survive for months in smoked goods such as hams.

At train stations and in parks and forests up and down the country, posters from Germany's agriculture ministry urge people not leave any food behind.

Reinwald also pointed out that the virus can survive for up to three months in mud carried in tyre threads.

But the attention now is firmly on roaming boars.

“The possibility of an infection from sick boars crossing the border is very high, higher now than the risk from humans,” Blome said.

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‘Save the cheeky but peaceful sow’: Berliners protest culling of wild boar

Berliners are protesting - online and in person - against the possible culling of a peaceful pig dubbed Elsa who gained worldwide fame for stealing a nudist's laptop bag as a chase ensued.

'Save the cheeky but peaceful sow': Berliners protest culling of wild boar
A wild boar and its babies in Springe, Lower Saxony. Photo: DPA

Berlin, and the world, was pleasantly enlivened by social media images of a nude sunbather chasing after a wild boar who had stolen his laptop bag.

READ ALSO: Only in Germany: Wild boar steals laptop from naked Berlin sunbather

Yet the laughing mood was dampened when Berlin’s forestry service announced last week that the boar and its two youngsters could be part of an annual cull in order to keep the species’ numbers down and protect people from diseases they might carry. 

Berliners have now protested –  and on Sunday organised a “demo against the shooting of the wild boar family from the Teufelssee”.

An online petition was also set up under the title “Save the cheeky but peaceful sow from the Teufelssee,” and collected almost 10,000 signatures at the time of writing. 

About a dozen people showed up to Sunday’s protest in front of Berlin’s Forestry Office in Grunewald. 

They kept their distance, wore masks, and held up signs that read “Have a heart for this wild boar family”.

“The animals did not harm anyone and the laptop also came back to its owner,” wrote protest organisers. “There is no reason to kill the animals.”

The boar family is apparently known to bathers, and even made an appearance at the lake in Berlin's Grunewald in the week following its social media fame.

Adele Landauer, the Berlin-based life coach who originally took the pictures and shared with the man’s permission, spotted the boar family again on August 9th, and wrote that the creatures did not do any harm to those around them

“No one really cared much because they all felt comfortable with each other,” she wrote.

Wild boar babies playing around in Ravensburg, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: DPA

'Appropriate measures'

However, Berlin state forestry office spokesman Marc Franusch told AFP the boar and her babies could be culled when the hunting season begins in October.

They would not be shot immediately because it is the wrong time of year, Franusch said – but the agency will be keeping an eye on them.

“If there are special dangers for humans or animals in places such as the bathing area at Teufelssee (lake), appropriate measures must be taken to avert these dangers,” he said.

Wild boars are regularly culled by licensed hunters in Berlin and the rest of Germany to keep numbers down and to fend off diseases such as African swine fever.

Every year, 1,000 to 2,000 wild boars are shot in Berlin.

The population in Berlin alone is estimated to hover around 3,000, with sightings are becoming more common.

READ ALSO: 'No longer fearful': How wild boars are thriving in Berlin

They often venture into residential areas looking for food, as appeared to be the case during the incident last week, and have been known to attack humans.

“Many of us were scared but the wild boars seemed to be peaceful,” Landauer, the Berlin-based life coach, wrote as she shared photos of the animals on Instagram two weeks ago. 

“After they ate a pizza from a backpack of a man who was taking a swim in the lake they were looking for a dessert. They found this yellow bag and decided to take it away.”

Franusch urged people visiting the lake to avoid leaving food or rubbish behind, as this would only encourage the creatures.

With reporting from AFP.