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Monday, May 16, 2022

Of Pigs and Boars: Rome's Problem with Cinghiali--and Swine Flu


There was a time, not so long ago, when a story about a cinghiale (a wild boar) showing up in Rome  brought a smile to one's face. How unusual. Cute critters. 

A wild board in Piazza Verbano
No more. The boars are more common now. Just in the past week, a boar was seen rooting around in a flower bed and a garbage bin in Piazza Verbano (near where we lived one of our times in Rome), in the heart of the neighborhood Trieste/Salario. Police arrived and closed the piazza for 20 minutes. A woman walking her dog in Villa Glori, in toney Parioli, was threatened by cinghiali (and folks are now being warned to keep their dogs away from the animals). Wild boars have also been sighted in the southern suburb of EUR, on the busy thoroughfare Cristoforo Colombo, in Piazzale Pio XII, in Piazza Vescovio (Trieste), on Monte Mario (one of our favorite close-in hiking venues and featured in our guidebook, #11 on RST's Top 40), and around a children's playground in Prati, near the Vatican. According to a veterinarian expert on the subject, the boars are not generally aggressive but will defend themselves, and they may become aggressive if people have food with them. His advice: drop the food and leave. 

A family of cinghiali at a children's playground in Prati. 

A genuine sense of crisis has emerged only in the last few days, when a boar was found dead with the swine flu virus in the Insugherata Reserve, an enormous, largely undeveloped area northwest of the city center. The disease is highly contagious among wild boars and regular pigs, and deadly 98% of the time (ok, we've hiked there as well - and came out on one of the farms ringing it). Now we're learning that there are some 12,000 small pig farms in the region, with all their 43,000 pigs in danger from the virus, which is lethal for the pigs. Although it seems clear that the virus does not spread to humans (and one always worries about when a virus will "jump" to humans), it is a resistant virus, able to survive for up to 100 days in the outdoors (and several months in salami or frozen meat), and it is spreadable by human contact--on one's clothes, for example. 

Now there's at least one article a day in the newspapers about the "la peste suina" (the swine flu, referred to in the papers here as psa [swine flu africana]). It's no secret that the major cause of the problem is Rome's horrendous, decades-old garbage problem. In every section of the city, the garbage bins in which residents throw their refuse are overflowing, to the point where frustrated citizens put their garbage outside the bins, on the ground, where it often remains for days. The boars love these easy pickings, and come into the city to eat. They eat and multiply. Estimates differ, but it's likely there are about 20,000 wild boars in and around Rome--especially, but not entirely, in the areas to the west and north.

There are plans to deal with the problem. The Lazio regional government (in which Rome is located) has created a "red zone" (see map above) where picnicking and other events, and the feeding of animals, will be prohibited. The red zone is bounded on the west and north by the GRA--a super highway that circles the city, and on the east by stretches of the Tiber River. But there is no "natural" barrier to the south, where the red zone will be marked by city streets, including via di Boccea and via Cipro (see the numbers on the map - we were living 2 blocks from via Cipro last month).  And, as a glance at the map reveals, wild boars have been sighted in many areas of the city that are outside the red zone and on the east side of the Tiber (Piazza Verbano is one example). 

The Commune of Rome will fence off some of the garbage bins. Medical authorities will check the farm pigs for disease (not a simple task). Some of the larger green areas will be closed, though which ones and to what extent has not been revealed. And the plan includes efforts to close off the migratory avenues (the "green channels") that the boars use to come into the city proper. How that will happen is not clear.

Dealing with the boar invasion won't be easy. The last half dozen of Rome's mayors have sworn they'll get the city's garbage collected, and, no matter the political party in charge, the problem has only gotten worse. The city's northwest is the site of several enormous parks. Some are heavily used and cared for, including Villa Ada (the source of some of the boars in that area of the city) and Villa Borghese. But others are quite primitive spaces--Monte Mario, Parco del Pineto, and the Insugherata Reserve among them--and it will likely be impossible to find the boars in these areas, let alone remove them or change their migratory patterns. 

In the meantime, we're thinking of staying out of the more remote parts of Monte Mario--for years, a favorite haunt--and leaving Parco del Pineto to the cinghiali. 


P.S. Two days after I drafted this account, the papers reported 16 dead wild boars in the Insugherata, 2 of which had swine flu (only 2? why did the others die?), and that 650 pigs would have to be destroyed to keep the disease from spreading. The day before, it was reported that, because of the small number of cases, pig farmers were not required to register with the authorities. Today, May 11, the word was that a woman in the suburb of Bufalotta couldn't leave her house because there were 20 boars outside; a 4th case of swine flu was reported; and residents who live inside the affected area--presumably the "red zone," were asked to disinfect their shoes whenever they left that area. Good luck on enforcing that one!. 

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