Tourist tip #220 / Boar-spotting in Israel
There is no point in getting smashed at one of Tel Aviv's bars and reeling out to go searching for wild pigs. Think cool, brushy areas, and remember, they're nocturnal.
Modern Israel is largely denuded of natural large fauna, but, ironically, one species that has managed to hang on is the wild boar.
Perhaps it isn't coincidence. They may not be kosher, but they are protected under law and any natural predators they once had in the region have gone extinct. With the exception of course of people happy to break the law, hunt and eat them.
For all their size – at a maximum of 200 kilos, boars are the heftiest naturally found animal in Israel today – they are shy and largely nocturnal. Their range in Israel is broad, mainly from the Jerusalem hills northward, but the pigs have even been spotted in Judea and Samaria, although they tend to prefer areas featuring cool brush where they can skulk in peace during the day.
Although the boars prefer wild, unpeopled spaces to the mean streets, they can be seen in residential areas (feast your eyes on the video). In fact, they can be seen in the cities more than the good people of the cities would like. Spottings in Haifa had become so common, to the annoyance of residents, that in 2009 the city set out to trap and relocate some, and warned people to watch out for wild boars when trekking through the hills.
Kibbutz Nir Etzion even discovered that the porcines were attending regular evening feeding with the cows, and that the animals were peacefully supping together, head to head. However, being an observant Jewish community and the boar being, well, a pig, and also, given that the boars took to coming in large groups - the decision fell to erect fencing to frustrate their access.
Wild boars congregate around settled areas for the usual reasons – their natural habitat has been shrinking, and there's good vittles in garbage dumps and gardens. Boars will eat practically anything, though their preferred menu includes fresh fruit and vegetables, mushrooms, acorns, and dead rodents.
The males are solitary but the females may form a pack of several mothers with the delightfully striped piglets, which are usually born in the spring.
So how do you go about spotting one, or a family perchance? First and foremost, you have to get lucky. That's how it is when an animal isn't caged. It can come and go. There's no assurance of seeing any when you happen to be around, and did we mention they're nocturnal?
But here are some helpful pointers. There are none in Tel Aviv. None. There is no point in getting smashed at one of Tel Aviv's bars and reeling out to go boar-spotting. Also, think cool and brushy – in other words, you're more likely to see some in the Golan and Hula area, say tour guides. There is a large population in the Galilee around Mt. Meron, say experts.
Now, having left the Tel Aviv area and headed for the hills, shut up. Boars don't appreciate company. If you talk, they will notice you. Once they notice you, especially if you are moving, they will flee. All you will see is a boar's behind.
Look for signs of boar activity, namely digging for roots, or balls of regurgitated grasses.
Having found evidence of boar activity, hide in the brush at night near a source of water, and maybe you will spot one. You probably won't. Tour guides do beg to point out that the probability of actually seeing one when you mean to is pretty low.
So there you went, spent the night being eaten by mosquitos in some boggy armpit of the Holy Land and nada. If see a boar you must, you can always go to the Tel Aviv University's Garden for Zoological Research, which conveniently keeps a family of the animals. But you can't just show up, pay and pat a pig. The garden only accepts groups that make an appointment in advance (tel. 03-6405148).
One last point. A wild animal weighing several hundred pounds with tusks and an attitude can be dangerous. But remember, it's more frightened of you than you are of it – unless you get between a mother and her kids. Don't do that. And if you do? Get out of the way, say experts.