HONG KONG — It may be the year of the pig, but Hong Kong has had enough of the wild ones.
Authorities in the densely populated financial center are looking for ways to cut down on potentially dangerous encounters between humans and wild boars that have increased as the city’s ballooning population expands into former wilderness.
Boars are now frequent sights on roadways, in parks and housing developments and even in shopping centers, and there is concern that the animals have lost their fear of humans.
While the government is pushing for softer measures such as sterilization for the pigs and education for humans who feed them, others say the solution is a full-scale cull of the swine.
The debate about how to handle the wild boars comes as the city of more than 7 million people is being festooned with pig-themed decorations in preparation for the Lunar New Year holiday that officially begins on Feb. 5. The pig is one of 12 animals that in the Chinese zodiac’s 12-year cycle.
Not far from its cramped apartment blocks and neon lights, Hong Kong has plenty of untouched land, traditionally home to a variety of animals, including wild boars. Some areas where homes are close to parks or forests, such as Aberdeen in Hong Kong Island’s south, have become popular spots for growing numbers of boars to forage for food amid the garbage cans.
The government’s Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department says it doesn’t know how many wild boars there are in Hong Kong. But it has acknowledged a big increase in public complaints about the animals over the past five years — from 294 in 2013, to 738 in 2017.
That prompted a review of policy starting last year, which included a halt to hunts by volunteer teams for boars deemed to be threats to property or public safety.
Instead, the government is extending a policy of sterilizing the animals and feeding them contraceptives, as well as discouraging the public from providing them food. It also captures and tries to relocate wild boars away from residential areas as an alternative to killing them.
However, one local organization, “Wild Boar 70,” is lobbying for the renewed culling of the wild boar population.
Other countries with large populations of wild pigs have a policy of controlling them by killing large numbers every year, according to spokesman Wesley Ho.
“Our goal is hopefully to raise public concern about Hong Kong’s current problem of wild boar overpopulation, and about exactly what kind of animal these wild boars are,” Ho said.
Nations such as France and the U.S. have to deal with large-scale damage to agriculture wrought by feral pigs, largely appealing to hunters as a solution.
Denmark this month began erecting a 70-kilometer (43.4-mile) fence along the German border to keep out wild boars in an attempt to prevent the spread of African swine fever, which could jeopardize the country’s valuable pork industry.
With agriculture a minor player in the local economy, such concerns aren’t much of an issue in Hong Kong.
However, Roni Wong, of the Hong Kong Wild Boar Concern Group, says that development expanding into Hong Kong’s green areas is causing the increasing confrontation between humans and animals.
“Their habitats are slowly being urbanized,” Wong said. “So their chances of feeding, and their habitat, are being destroyed.”
By now, Hong Kong social media users are highly familiar with videos of wild boars taken by drivers and pedestrians. Sometimes they show a herd rushing across a road in front of cars in a manner that looks dangerous to both themselves and drivers.
Other times, they come across as cute, cuddly and unthreatening, often raising a snout to the camera as if in greeting.
Hong Kong’s government says it hopes to complete its policy review of wild boar management within the year.