Oh, the joy! Oh, the sweet, sweet joy! Finally, after years of searching and waiting, I got to see a wild boar in the flesh. But not just one boar – a whole sounder (group) of sows and piglets! And the experience was everything I hoped it would be!
Norėdami skaityti šį straipsnį lietuvių kalba, spustelėkite čia.
Let me begin at the beginning. Actually, I’ll begin a little before the beginning. This year, I was determined I would get to see the spectacle of the red deer rut, so in mid-September I set off around our local fields and forests looking for good vantage points. I discovered a number of high hides that would be perfect for deer watching. I asked Arūnas about getting permission to use these and he explained that they are owned by local hunting groups and that anyone can use them, assuming they’re free when you arrive. Brillant!
So there I am, having my tea in one of these hides and enjoying a fabulous evening of photography, when I notice a car driving across the field towards me. It stops just under the hide and the man inside rolls down the window. “Well,” he says. Not having any idea who he is or why he’s there, I reply in kind. “Well,” says I*. He asks why I’m there and I’m a little shifty for a moment until he reveals that he actually owns this hide, at which I flash him my most winning smile and start to tell him about Guardian of Giria and my Wild Lithuania page (while making a mental note to kill Arūnas when I get home!)
* I’m using the word “well” as a rough translation of the Lithuanian word “nu”!
It turns out this gentleman, Zenonas, owns over twenty of these hides around the county. He’s a keen hunter, but also a wildlife lover, just like myself. He mentions he has a friend who feeds wild boar daily at a forest near Tauragė and asks if I’d like to go along with him some day to take photos. “YES!” I almost scream, barely able to contain my excitement. Although the main character of Guardian of Giria is a wild boar, I had never managed to photograph one. This was HUGE!
So a few days later I join Zenonas and his friend, Dr Vaclovas Straukas, for a trip to meet wild boar. I arrive both appropriately and stylishly dressed – skinny jeans, swanky wellies and a feather-and-down knee-length coat to keep out the autumn chills. After quick introductions, Vaclovas hands me a pair of scruffy tracksuit bottoms and an even scruffier anorak. “Wear these,” he says. Huh?! I protest that I’m fine as I am – I don’t mind getting a bit mucky – but he’s not having any of it. Apparently, I need to smell like wild boar or they won’t come close enough to take photos. So, slightly reluctantly, I climb into the tracksuit bottoms and put on the anorak. They both smell a bit like pigs but it’s not a bad smell and after a few minutes I don’t even notice it anymore.
At this point, it’s pitch dark and I’m worried that I won’t be able to take any photos at all. Vaclovas, who like Zenonas has been a hunter all his life, explains that wild boar are nocturnal and prefer to eat in the dark. He loads the jeep up with several sacks of food including apples, potatoes and grain, all of which have been donated by local farmers. They have been feeding the wild boar every day for nearly five years in a bid to demonstrate that boar who have enough to eat in one place will stay in that one place and won’t cause damage to surrounding farmland and crops. The presence of wild boar on or near their land is an annoyance to many farmers and there are those who would like a large cull to greatly reduce numbers. Hunting of wild boar is allowed in Lithuania, but hunting laws are very strict and unlikely to impact overall numbers. Both Zenonas and Vaclovas would like it to stay that way and are keen to demonstrate that, with a little effort, we can live in harmony with wild animals, hunting in limited quantities only for food and without putting populations at risk.
The project has been a huge success. The sounder is now so familiar with Vaclovas that he can feed them by hand, rub them behind the ears and even pick up piglets!
Finally, we arrive at our destination. I’m looking left and right for my first glimpse of a boar and suddenly, there they are! About 30 or more pigs, between sows and piglets, who are now about 6 months old and have completely lost their baby stripes. I am immediately smitten. Vaclovas gets out first and takes the first sack of food to the pigs. I’m fascinated to watch as he chats with them like they’re old friends, then reaches down to give one a good scratch behind the ears. Finally, my moment arrives. Following instructions, I tentatively step out of the jeep. I am to remain totally silent and to stay behind the lights of the car. Anything out of the ordinary might startle them and the whole sounder could disappear in seconds. So I stand and watch, fascinated, then remember that I’m meant to be taking photos and shoot off a few in quick succession, then go back to watching again. I can’t get over how close I am – I can actually smell them! (Or maybe that’s just me …) I stand and watch for about thirty minutes while Vaclovas distributes the food, then all too soon it’s time to leave again.
The experience was everything I hoped it would be, and more. It was a bit dark for taking photos and the bright car lights created some deep shadows, but I managed to get a few nice shots. Vaclovas has invited me back to do an earlier feeding during daylight hours and I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it. In the meantime, please enjoy these photos, plus a short video that I compiled from footage that Vaclovas and his wife had taken over the last year. Huge thanks to Vaclovas for allowing me to tag along and to Zenonas for arranging it (and for continuing to allow me to use his high hides!)