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What to know about Germany's wild boars - and how to stay safe around them

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
What to know about Germany's wild boars - and how to stay safe around them
A Central European Boar at a wildlife park in Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

Whether they're stealing a naked man's backpack at a lake or emerging from the Baltic Sea, Germany's wild boars are great at wreaking havoc. Here's where you can find these mischievous creatures - and how to stay on their good side.

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Along with lake-swimming, beer gardens and 30-degree heat, wild boars - or Wildschweine - have come to define the German summer experience.

Different varieties of these cute, snuffling hogs can be found all across Europe, but the Central European Boar, with its dark-brown hair, long snout and strong jaw, is native to Germany. These resourceful creatures are just as at home high up in the mountains as they are in swamps, but in the Bundesrepublik you'll mostly encounter them in forests and around lakes.

If you have children, you're likely to have seen quite a few wild boars in Wildgehegen - little wildlife enclosures - alongside animals like deer, stags and raccoons. But it's certainly not uncommon to encounter them out in the wild - or occasionally in places you least expect them.

READ ALSO: Eight signs summer has arrived in Germany

Why are wild boars so iconic in Germany?

Beyond the distinctive characteristics of the Central European Boar - Germany's native Wildschwein - footage of the animals causing chaos in various regions of the country has become a mainstay of the summer season. 

In one incredible incident back in 2020, a wild boar made headlines when it was spotted swimming in the Baltic Sea and careering onto a beach in Schönhagen, Schleswig-Holstein.

The bathing boar had earlier been spotted miles out to sea by sailors who had initially mistaken it for a porpoise, and who tried to redirect it towards the coastline. 

After its triathlon-worthy swim, the soggy hog was filmed startling sunbathers by veering towards land and frantically dashing around the beach. 

In the video, it can be seen trying to bite a man, who manages to shoo it away with a shovel, while people are heard shouting at beach-goers to steer clear of the animal and let it run.  

READ ALSO: WATCH: Wild boar surprises sunbathers in Germany by emerging from Baltic Sea 

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Though the image of a boar on a beach isn't something you'd forget in a hurry, it's far from the first - or last - time a wild boar has caused mayhem in Germany. 

Just a week before the Schönhagen incident, a female Wildschwein nicknamed Elsa went viral after she stole a man's laptop bag at Berlin's Teufelsee - a popular spot for FKK sunbathers. 

A picture of the naked man chasing the boar caused hilarity across the internet and even led to the two characters being immortalised as plastic figurines for model railway sets

The unidentified man did manage to recover his laptop in the end - and the image of the mischievous boar with a naked man in tow, complete with beer-drinking bystanders chilling by the lake, has become shorthand for the authentic German summer experience. 

Should humans really be living so close to wild boar?

Funny as these incidents are (and thankfully, nobody was hurt in either of them), the increasing level of interaction between humans and wild boars is definitely not without controversy. 

In fact, in the weeks after the laptop incident at Teufelsee, tourists apparently flocked to the Berlin lake in their droves to try and meet Elsa and her piglets and get their own pictures of the cheeky boar.

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It led to concerns that the animals would become increasingly dependent on humans for food - which would make it hard for them to survive in the autumn and winter season, and could even endanger human lives. 

Then, not too long afterwards, a video emerged of Elsa and her offspring ransacking a child's birthday party near Teufelsee - seemingly proving the naysayers right. The little boar-family apparently ran off after wreaking havoc and then returned later to eat their share of cake and sweets, to the delight of some children and the horror of others. 

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

In the months that followed, the first case of African Swine Flu - a serious and often deadly disease for wild boars - was recorded in Brandenburg. The discovery led to the cull of around 2,000 wild boars in the Berlin-Brandenburg area, with Elsa likely to have been among them. 

Experts had feared the disease would be transmitted to the boars if they ate infected meat that had been left behind by humans in the forest. Once again, they were proved right. 

The sad ending to the Elsa story highlights the importance of knowing how to behave around wildlife to keep both animals and people safe.

How many wild boars are there in Germany?

For obvious reasons, it isn't easy to conduct a comprehensive survey of Wildschweine in Germany, but a 2020 estimate suggested that there could be anywhere between 1.4 and 2.2 million. 

One thing's certain, however: wild boars have made a stunning comeback after being hunted almost to extinction in the last century. 

These highly intelligent animals have razor-sharp senses, which could be one reason for their resilience as a species, but ecologists also put their recovery down to better access to food and the absence of two of the pigs' main predators - bears and wolves - from many of Germany's forests. 

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As the numbers of wild boars has shot up, so too has the level of interaction between them and humans - with reports of the pigs wandering into towns and cities, destroying crops, and even attacking pets and people. In Berlin, it's also not unusual to see wild boars in the outskirts of the town when the weather is milder - and there are also occasional sightings in supermarket carparks, playgrounds, parks and along the high-street. 

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

At Barsinghausen S-Bahn in Hanover, for example, a video recently went viral of a man holding onto a furious boar to stop it charging at passengers in the station. The incident occurred after a number of the animals had wandered into the town. 

@benzo.308 Barsinghausen immer was neues😭 ❗️Der Typ hat es festgehalten damit es nicht auf andere losgeht, das Schwein hatte Tollwut ❗️#fy #fyp #fürdich #xyzbca #barsinghausen #hannover #barsinghausenlebt ♬ Who Let The Dogs Out - Original - The Doggies

Another video filmed in Hagen-Emst, North Rhine-Westphalia, shows a large family of Wildschweine making their way across a local park and through a children's playground.

The seemingly dizzying breeding rate of wild boars has also led to calls - particularly in the farming community - for them to be culled in order to keep numbers under control.

Are they dangerous?

Though you wouldn't know it from watching the videos above, wild boar are actually incredibly shy creatures who tend to be naturally afraid of humans. That means that, in most cases, boars will probably give you a wide berth and you may not even know that one is nearby.

Though boars have a distinctive odour - a kind of sweaty, wet-dog aroma - their keen sense of smell means they'll probably smell you first and do their best to stay out of sight.

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In addition, they generally have a peaceful nature and don't tend to be aggressive towards humans or other animals. 

However, if a wild boar does feel threatened, they could try to defend themselves by charging - and mothers are also fiercely protective of their young.

What's more, their bulky frames - which can weigh up to 250kg - speedy legs, strong jaw and sharp teeth can be an extremely dangerous combination.

On occasion, people have died as a result of wild boar attacks in Germany. 

What should I do if I meet a wild boar?

Though it may be much easier said than done, the best thing you can do if you encounter a Wildschwein is to try to stay calm and avoid any sudden, hectic movements. 

Most importantly, don't start running as this could attract unnecessary attention and may even trigger a chase response in the animal. 

If a wild boar is blocking your path, the best course of action is to back away slowly and then choose an alternative route.

wild boar in Bavaria

A 200kg wild boar at a wildlife park in Bavaria. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Nicolas Armer

It's also important for dog owners to take special care to ensure their dog doesn't end up chasing or trying to interact with a wild boar. That means keeping the dog on the leash for the most part and only letting it off in designated dog-walking areas (Hundeauslaufgebiete) where you can easily call them back if needed.

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If a dog does get a whiff of Wildschwein, it may be tricky to get them to return to you and in the worse-case scenario, a boar may feel threatened and go on the offensive.

If this happens, don't try to intervene or stand between the boar and your dog. Most dogs should be agile enough to escape, but standing in the way of an agressive boar could have life-threatening consequences for humans.

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