A woman walks into a supermarket parking lot carrying a full plastic bag when she finds herself surrounded by four adult boars — the largest of them as tall as her thigh — and four cubs.
With no alternative, she lets go of her purchases, which the pigs quickly grabbed and began to devour.
Filmed by another frequenter of the Fornello store —a municipality in the northern area of the metropolitan region of Rome—, the scene was seen hundreds of thousands of times on the internet and helps to understand why the mayor of the capital, Virginia Raggi, started this week in court. a “war of the wild boars”.
Raggi, 43, who is running for re-election a month from now, has filed a criminal case against the regional government of Lazio, which he accuses of providing “the massive and uncontrolled presence of wild boar in the capital of Italy”.
The region is ruled by the Democratic Party (PD, Social Democrat), its main opponent in the municipal election: recent polls show a tie between Raggi, of the 5 Stars Movement (from the center-right), and Democratic candidate Roberto Gualtieri, 55, around 20% of voting intentions, which should lead to a second round.
According to the mayor, the PD government failed to comply with its commitment to “implement effective management plans for these animals”. The subject has been moving the region for some years, with farmers associations organizing hunts and promoting protests. In their calculations, there are at least 2 million of these animals in Italy, and they are attributed a road accident every two days.
Native to Europe, these feral pigs can weigh up to 250 kg and reach 1.10 m in height, with a length of 1.80 m — that is, if it stood on two legs, it would surpass most humans.
It is capable of lifting 50 kg rocks, running at up to 40 km/h and jumping 1.50 m obstacles. Its most dangerous feature is its canine teeth, which reach 12 cm in length and are used for attack and defense. Like common pigs, their wild boar relatives are omnivores. In nature, they eat roots, fruits, seeds and nuts, as well as snails, earthworms, insects, eggs and small mammals.
In the countryside, they invade farms at night to devour corn crops and damage the soil with extensive excavations. The flocks are capable of covering up to 40 km in one night. In cities, on the other hand, they extend their hours: they also show up in the morning and eat what they find — usually garbage.
Waste management is one of Rome’s biggest problems, and animal visitation sometimes ends badly — for both parties. Last year, animal rights activists urged the city to open an investigation after a family of wild boar was shot dead by police in a playground near the Vatican.
The biggest pressure, however, comes from the human side. Since 2019, farmers have been promoting protests in Rome asking for action. Two months ago, in front of Parliament, protesters carried banners that equated the “boar plague” with Covid and called for the “union of town and country” against animals.
The association of Coldiretti farmers, one of the largest in the country, even asked for help from the Army. According to a survey released by the organization, one in four Italian adults (26%) has come across one of these animals in the city or at a holiday resort, and 58% consider them a real threat to the population.
In the complaint to the Public Ministry, the mayor of Rome cites a law that assigns the region the responsibility of “providing for the control of wild species even in prohibited hunting areas”.
The regional government, in turn, said it would evaluate the complaint, but says the legislation was changed this year. “The control of wild species in areas that do not belong to the agro-forestry-pastoral surface is the responsibility of territorially competent municipalities,” he said.
Whoever is responsible, the problem could become more serious due to climate change: with less severe winters, wild boars are reproducing faster, according to scientists.
Instead of two litters per year, the females have given birth three times every two years, producing 6 to 10 offspring in the period, instead of a maximum of 6. The survival of the young has also increased, the professor of Greek told the Greek press. forestry at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Christos Vlachos, in May this year, when pigs began to invade the Greek coastal city. The animals were also caught in French urban areas during the pandemic.
In the Italian capital, wild boars have been added to a list of urban problems that challenge candidates for mayor. With 2.8 million inhabitants —the equivalent of Salvador—, the city has deficiencies mainly in transport, in addition to waste management, says political scientist Jan Labitzke, a professor at the Justus-Liebig University in Giessen (Germany) and a specialist in Italian local politics.
Local mafias operate in both areas, and the municipality faces strong unions that keep the structure inefficient. In the case of garbage, there is a lack of areas for new landfills, and the burning of waste is opposed, said Labitzke, commenting on the city’s problems in a broad way, and not in relation to wild boar.
“Democracy implies displeasing some”, points out urban planner Alessandra Capuano, for whom the municipal administration fell short of what was desired in the challenge of facing these wide-ranging problems and taking advantage of the city’s great potential.
A professor at Sapienza University, she has Rome as her research focus, is an expert on lifestyles and cities of the future, and also spoke about the Italian capital more broadly.
According to Capuano, the pandemic —by drastically reducing the circulation of cars in the capital— showed the urgency of changing the model of locomotion: “It is necessary to encourage means of transport by rail, shared solutions, bicycle lanes that really integrate the city and incentives to pedestrians”.
Controlling excessive and predatory tourism is also urgent, says the Italian expert, something the German political scientist agrees.
The urbanist advocates urban change in Rome’s historic center that attracts residents rather than drives them away.
“It can’t just be ‘bed and breakfast’ [hospedarias populares para turistas]. We have beautiful historic palaces in these areas, abandoned because their price was too high for the population,” he says.
Despite the difficulties, the dispute for the mayor of Rome is fierce, says Labitzke: “It is the most important city in the country, and many problems are also the chance to project itself with solutions.”
Capuano also points to an extensive network of universities and cultural institutions that could strengthen the city’s potential if coordinated by the municipal administration.
There is still a proposal under discussion to change the status of the capital, transforming it into a region, which would give it more budget resources and more administrative skills, says Labitzke.
If approved, it would at least resolve the judicial discussion over who is to blame for the wild boar invasion — municipal and regional administration would be one and the same.