- Paul Keil
Reducing non-native wild pigs to an anthropogenic effect
“At the end of the day, feral pigs are a human problem. We’ve spread them around the world. This is another human-mediated climate impact.” The above quote is by Dr Christopher O’Bryan of the University of Queensland, in a Guardian piece promoting his recently released article that received alot of traction this week in the media Entitled Unrecognized threat to global soil carbon by a widespread invasive species the journal article focuses on pigs who were introduced and roam wild outside of their native range of Europe and Asia, and analyses the carbon effects of soil disturbance produced by rooting behaviour. Pigs are significant ecosystem engineers. These rogue pigs, they argue, are producing enough carbon to be considered a climate change driver. Chatting with colleagues I realise that there are a great number of things to say about this paper (too much for my limited time and attention span!)... but for now I will narrow my thoughts briefly to this problem - how wild pigs are framed as an anthropogenic effect.
Photo by Bernard Dupont https://www.flickr.com/photos/berniedup/29215887482 Wild pigs outside of their native ranges were all introduced by waves of human migration and colonisation. While in the Americas and Antipodes, pigs were introduced by European colonisers over the last several centuries, wild pigs in many of the Pacific islands were introduced by Polynesian travellers over several thousand years. Pig and human migration and distribution patterns are closely connected. The capacity to characterise the ecosystem effects of non-native wild pigs as negative is founded on the idea that the existence of these animals in non-native areas are matter out-of-place, artificial introductions which disrupt a proper order. They exist in places in which they are believed not to be an evolved fit and so as seen as disruptive. For example, feral pigs introduced to Australia (where the majority of the paper's authors are from) are typically studied for their destructive impacts, whether on native species or farming. Focusing on this facet of their ecological relation serves to delegitimise their place in Australia and argue for their management through culling. All wild pigs - native and non-native - uproot soil as part of feeding. Yet only non-native pigs are seen as aberrant and a variant of wild Sus Scrofa that should not exist. Their role in carbon release is thus identified an excess and so contributing to climate change. Alternatively native wild pig carbon release into the atmosphere can be interpreted as natural process and so acceptable
The migration and spread of species as part of anthropogenic infrastructures in the last several hundred years are feral effects that have damaged ecosystems already made vulnerable due to other human-driven environmental disturbances. There is no easy answer on how to manage the added pressure invasive species are delivering in their new homes. Killing cannot be ruled out of the equation. However and problematically, equating invasive wild pigs as driving climate change constructs pigs in a manner that serves not only to increase the stakes of what is at risk with the continued existence of these aberrant animals, but also reinforce the human claim on pig bodies, behaviours, and lives. Out-of-place pigs are seen as a result of human intervention, and so their ongoing existence - which in this case includes all their behaviours and subsequent ecological relations - is reduced to a human cause. As effecting climate change they are marked as an anthropogenic effect. In the case of invasive animals, their creation is considered a mistake, and to destroy or suppress them would be the correction. The agency of the pig as more-than-human life is completely subsumed as part of anthropocentric intention, action, and responsibility. Non-native wild pigs are only seen in this instance as an object or extension of humans. The irony is, is that pigs are too resilient, populations too rooted in to the new places they now participate in and give shape to. They are highly intelligent, adaptable, and often evade management techniques. Control of non-native free-roaming pigs is beyond the capacity for governing bodies and other actors. Even at this level of relation, their agency extends far beyond our own,