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January 18, 2019

Protesters urge end to wild boar 'massacre' in Poland

Protesters urge end to wild boar 'massacre' in Poland
'Activists calling for an end to wild boar 'massacre'' - By: AFP Janek SKARZYNSKI

Hundreds of protesters rallied in Warsaw on Wednesday demanding an end to a mass cull aimed at wiping out Poland's entire wild boar population in what authorities insist is a bid to fight a disease threatening the pork industry.

Environmentalists and scientists warn that the cull could upset the ecosystem and even inadvertently spread African swine fever (ASF), which is deadly to pigs. The disease was first spotted in Poland in 2014 when infected wild boar entered from Belarus.

Under orders from the environment and agriculture ministries, Poland's PZL hunting union says it has killed 168,000 wild boar since April last year, part of its quota of 185,000 boar for the 2018-19 season.

Now, the environment ministry has ordered the PZL to organise a mass cull during the last three weekends of January, prompting the outcry.

The protesters rallying Wednesday evening in front of Poland's parliament -- some dressed up as wild boar -- touted placards saying "wild boar massacre", "long live wild boars" and "ministers should be shot".

More protests are planned in several cities across Poland in the coming days.

Polish scientists meanwhile sent an open letter to right-wing Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki calling for an "immediate" halt to the cull and recommending "alternative actions" like disinfectant mats on pork farms to stem the spread of ASF.

- 'We're not butchers' -

The World Wildlife Fund (WFF) also wants the cull called off and is recommending studies to gauge its long-term environmental impact.

"Wild boar are a key species in the ecosystem, they forage on harmful insects and are a primary food source for wolves," Piotr Chmielewski, a biodiversity expert for the Polish branch of the WWF, told AFP.

Some hunters are also up in arms.

"We're not butchers... no real hunter will take part in this kind of slaughter... the environment minister has gone mad," Pawel Sierpinski, a Warsaw area hunter, with 20 years experience under his belt, told AFP.

If wild boar are eliminated from the ecosystem, wolves could begin to hunt deer and farm animals like sheep or cattle, he warned.

ASF was detected in around 3,200 wild boar and affected pigs in over a hundred locations across Poland between February 2014 and last summer, the Polish PAP news agency reported.

A leading pork supplier in the European Union, Poland exported $1.1 billion worth of meat in 2017, according to statistics compiled by the International Trade Centre.

African swine fever (ASF) is not harmful to humans but causes haemorrhagic fever in pigs and wild boar that almost always ends in death within a few days.

There is no antidote or vaccine, and the only known method to prevent the disease from spreading is a mass cull of the infected livestock.

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