Facing a pig problem, the Hong Kong government has reversed its long-standing policy of trapping and neutering wild boars, opting instead for mass culling. Last week, the city’s agriculture department began baiting the grunters with bread, and then shooting them. At least seven have been killed so far.
The bait-and-kill policy has drawn the ire of conservationists who say the practice is inhumane and unnecessary. But, amid the broader crushing of the city’s pro-democracy movement, some Hong Kong people see parallels between their fate and that of the boars.
The native wild animals — between 1,800 and 3,300 of them, according to a 2019 study — live mostly in Hong Kong’s country parks and have coexisted largely peacefully with residents. Banners along the city’s hiking trails urge people not to feed the pigs, a measure to prevent overpopulation and control environmental hygiene problems.
In 2017, the agriculture department began a program to capture and neuter or relocate the animals, a world-first ethical approach to overpopulation concerns, according to Roni Wong of the Wild Boar Concern Group. But because of limited resources, only about 10 percent of the wild pigs have been neutered or spayed, Wong said.
Since last year, more pigs have been straying from the hills and trails onto roads, streets, malls and even public transportation. In September 2020, city workers were shocked to see a family of pigs swimming in a pool at the Bank of China Tower in the financial district. Last month, the elderly mother of the pop star Coco Lee was attacked by a boar while walking near her home.
Then, one bold pig’s ill-fated attack on a police officer led the government to change course. Leung Siu-fai, the director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, said last week that the pigs are reproducing too quickly and that culling is the best solution to keep them out of urban areas.
“We need to remove the threat as soon as possible, as the safety of citizens is our main concern,” he said, adding that pigs wouldn’t be targeted in their natural habitat. Culling is a typical method to manage wildlife overpopulation elsewhere, including in Japan and Spain.
Experts say human behavior has encouraged the pigs to stray into urban areas. Some people feed the animals; others leave food waste at picnic and barbecue sites, and the pigs become accustomed to snacking on those leftovers, said Fiona Woodhouse, the deputy director of welfare at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
The group prefers a nonlethal approach to control pig numbers, such as territory-wide feeding bans and better waste management.
“Another animal will replace [the pigs] if you don’t address the feeding, which is the drive,” Woodhouse said.
A paper from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council discussing management of troublesome wild pigs in June stated that only animals that exhibit boldness and irritability should be culled.
Wong said the government never consulted his concern group about the new approach.
“These seven boars meant no harm, but the officials took advantage of their natural instinct and lured them with bread, then killed them,” Wong said. “It’s unfair, bloody and low.”
Many in Hong Kong noted the timing of the switch to a more aggressive policy — three days after the attack on the police officer — as an analogy for their city itself, where they say the police force has not been held accountable for violating rules on the use of force during 2019 anti-government protests. Some began to see the pigs as victims of the city’s political system, much as they see themselves.
Art and memes have emerged in recent days drawing parallels with Hong Kongers who feel trapped by tightening censorship and a harsh new security law. A painting by the artist Ah To, inspired by Wang Xingwei’s 2001 piece “New Beijing,” replaces those fleeing the shooting by soldiers at Tiananmen Square with injured and weeping pigs running away from the authorities.
The artist VA Wong Sir drew a picture of a pig eyeing a bag of money, a box labeled “vote” and bread in the middle of the road, unaware of a police officer hiding behind a tree and aiming a gun at the animal. Another artwork, by Teresa Chan, depicts a father-and-child pig pair at the airport, about to depart from Hong Kong, recalling the thousands who have fled the city to live abroad in recent months.
“Some viewers may see themselves reflected upon the boars; others may see themselves being hunted down or killed,” said VA Wong Sir.
Roni Wong said public distrust of the government is “very much related” to the social unrest in 2019, which he said remains unresolved. The injury to the police officer was a fuse that resulted in the culling operations, but the government failed to address the real problem of humans feeding the pigs, he said. (The officer was treated at a hospital and was in a stable condition, according to local media.)
“Although the government’s bloody act is a retrogression of civilization, we hope citizens can be civilized and stop feeding the wildlife,” Wong said.