Berlin's Boar Wars

Each spring the bustling city of Berlin becomes home to a group of enterprising animals who thrive in its parks, cemeteries and gardens. With the potential for conflict high, how do the people of Berlin react to their seasonal neighbours?

Wildschwein (Sus scrofa), Bache und Frischlinge wühlen in einem Vorgarten an der Argentinischen Allee, Berlin, Deutschland. Wild boar, sow and piglets grubbing in a frontyard in Berlin, Germany.

"If she comes back again, I'll teach her a lesson!"

The sprightly old lady waves her walking stick at the vanishing forester's car. "She" is Snow White, a mother wild boar and her seven humbug-like piglets, christened by the residents along Argeninische Allee in southwest Berlin. Snow White chose to give birth in the front yard of an apartment building, just like a few dozen other suburban boar do each spring. Andreas Constien, the forester, was just checking by - a daily routine when wild boars are in town. He knows only too well that reminding his fellow Berliners not to go too close, or to feed the animals, won't stop them from doing just that. He also discourages waving sticks at them.

"We have boar-lovers and boar-haters, plus many people who are simply afraid," says Andreas, a veteran of Berlin’s often tense relationship with wild boar. He has many stories to tell about the city's wildest residents: how one crashed through the glass frontage of the Axel Springer Publishing House; how groups of boar dug up the pitch at Berlin's premier league football club - multiple times.

"Yes, wild boar are in the news, almost every day, every spring", says Marc Franusch, Press Officer with the Berlin Forestry Department. Marc has been at the frontline of human-wildlife encounters for more than 20 years. "The boar are not the problem," he says, "people are the problem when they get too close, let their dogs off the lead or worse, start feeding them."

After a month of mostly peaceful co-existence, Snow White and her offspring finally wander off into the nearby Grunewald forest. While some residents breathe a sigh of relief and eagerly reclaim their flowerbeds, others put out fresh food and water - just in case the boar decide to return.

The challenge of living alongside large wild animals isn’t unique to Berlin. As the global human population continues to soar, and the planet’s wild places are increasingly squeezed, people and wildlife are being forced together like never before. Coexisting with animals that can impact on our orderly lives requires a reimagining of our whole relationship with nature. If we don’t learn tolerance and respect, we’ll not only be deprived of a thrilling photo opportunity, but we’ll put at risk the very natural web of life upon which we all depend.

Snow White and her seven piglets going about their business regularly attract onlookers. For the safety of both boar and people, social distancing is advised by Berlin’s forestry officials.

Most people are thrilled at an interaction with a wild animal that normally remains hidden in the forest.

Wild boar are not particularly fussy eaters and Snow White is quite happy to return to the front yard where she gave birth, to get stuck into the flowerbeds.

People need to behave differently when the boar are in town. Some pet dogs actually play with young boar, but generally, dogs and boar don’t mix.

Injured or orphaned boar are sometimes hand-reared in people’s homes. Here Maike, a local resident feeds a young boar his favourite apple sauce, La Couronne. Apparently, he won't even look at other brands.

Staff at the Berlin Forestry Department discuss strategies for how best to deal with the city’s urban-dwelling wild boar.

Schween (Berlin slang for pig) and her piglets line up for a morning routine of scratching by farmer Olaf Greiert, whose farm has played host to three generations of wild boar.

Almost 20% of Berlin is made up of green areas - from vast swathes of forest along the river Havel in the west to a mosaic of lakes in the east. This rich habitat supports a healthy population of around 5,000 wild boar.

Male boar leads solitary lives for much of the year, but they will socialise with their offspring.

Wild boar are hunted in the forests around Berlin. Males can weigh in at more than 250 kg - this 5-year-old from a suburb in the east of the city was about 140kg.

Hunters sounding a tribute to boar killed in a driven hunt.

A hunter's son cleans the carcasses from a hunt.

Wild boar have quickly adapted to the daily routines of Berlin. They’ve learned that the school bell may mean food, as the children feed the boar through the playground fence. They know that well-watered public parks or cemeteries mean a glut of earthworms. Studies have shown that some boar even use zebra crossings to move around the city safely.

It is clear that these intelligent creatures are quite comfortable living in the human world, but coexistence relies on that trust and respect flowing both ways.