PTA official: Wild boar hunt should increase to combat African swine fever

WIld boar in Muhu. Photo is illustrative.
WIld boar in Muhu. Photo is illustrative. Source: Kalmer Saar/

Recent outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF) in Southern Estonia confirm that background levels of the disease in the wild have once again gone up. In an interview for Vikerraadio's "Uudis+" on Thursday, Inge Saavo, director of the Southern Region of Estonia's Agriculture and Food Board (PTA), said that the solution lies in reducing wild boar numbers.

An ASF outbreak was identified Wednesday at Lutsu Farm, a Rakvere Farmid AS [farm] in Põlva County. The 9,000 pigs living at that farm now have to be slaughtered. This is a sad record for Estonia in that we've never found this big of an ASF outbreak before. What has the PTA been doing at the farm since Wednesday?

Lutsu Farm has been placed under restriction; nothing can be removed from there, nor can anything be brought in. An epidemiological investigation is being conducted there right now in cooperation with researchers from the Estonian University of Life Sciences [EMÜ] to determine the cause of the disease and how the pathogen may have reached the farm. Preparations are also underway for the euthanization of the animals.

How are these animals euthanized? 9,000 pigs is quite a lot.

The euthanization is carried out by our contractual partner AS Vireen, and the animals are euthanized using gas.

Meaning the pigs are right there in the farm and it gets filled with gas?

No! No gas is released into the farm. They're gassed in a dedicated truck.

What happens to the euthanized pigs next?

The euthanized pigs are taken to AS Vireen and destroyed there by incineration.

Let's go back to 2015-2016, when more than 20,000 pigs were euthanized in the span of a year, but individual cases were smaller. At the time, Vireen said they didn't have that kind of capacity, and various methods were attempted. There was a mobile pig incinerator that didn't work well, and various burial sites were mapped out as well. A lot of pigs were buried and then they resurfaced and it was a total disaster. Has Vireen's capacity increased in the meantime?

Vireen has made adjustments since then, and is capable of destroying these pigs.

From what I understand, an interim storage site was built in the meantime capable of freezing up to 500 tons of animal waste so that they can be incinerated later in batches.

Have you spoken with the business owner about how big of an economic loss this loss of 9,000 pigs will mean?

I can't speak on the economic loss at the moment, as these acts are still in the process of being drawn up. Livestock owners are compensated for the cost of the pigs, and feed and feed additives are subject to destruction as well. But it will all be determined in the process.

Last week, an ASF outbreak involving 116 pigs was discovered at Siberi Farm in Rõuge Municipality. Does a second farm being infected within a short time indicate that background levels of ASF in the wild are higher?

No doubt they're higher. Since the ASF virus was found in wild boar within a ten-kilometer radius of that ASF outbreak, one can assume that more of the virus is out there in the forest. And the ASF virus has likewise been found in Põlva County this year as well. The latest was on July 25, when a wild boar was killed in Ahja.

What could be behind the background levels of this virus going up now?

I think it's because the number of boars in the forest has gone up. And a lot of [ASF] virus-positive wild boar have been identified in our neighboring Latvia. That Võru County case was located 15-18 kilometers away from Latvia's ASF virus finding too.

Does that mean in turn that hunting has decreased, whether in Estonia or Latvia?

I can't speak for Latvia, but [wild] boar numbers in our forests have increased. Hunting does take place, generally speaking, but those volumes should be higher.

A ten-kilometer restriction zone is now being imposed surrounding the farm, and falling within that is another farm that will also be subject to restrictions aimed at preventing the possible spread of the disease. On both animals and the movement of materials involved in their handling. What will these restrictions mean for the [farm] operator?

Moving animals either in or out is essentially prohibited. They can only be brought in under the authorization of the PTA. And they likewise have to adhere to biosafety requirements. All movements must be registered. And all kinds of events are prohibited.

But can they take their own pigs to be slaughtered for meat?

Only with our authorization. We'll evaluate each time whether they can transport pigs out of [their farm] or not.

How long does this type of restriction zone remain in effect?

This type of restriction zone remains in effect until restrictions are lifted in connection with this infected outbreak. Restrictions are lifted 15 days after the final cleaning and disinfection.

Should anything — and what — change compared to existing [conditions]? The company press release also stated that everything had been fine and that they don't know how the disease reached them.

I believe that wild boar must be hunted more. So that there wouldn't be as much of a source of the spread of the virus as there currently is. We believe this must have come from the forest. And if you look at Põlva County, the ASF virus has been diagnosed in wild boar there 18 times this year. I believe that the solution is reducing wild boar numbers.

A while back we talked right here at Vikerraadio about the plan to allow some pigs to be kept outdoors again, for the first time in many years, because a lot of kids have never seen a live pig before. Is this a big blow to that plan now?

Pigs certainly shouldn't be kept outdoors right now.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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