15th May 2017 Vienna, Austria
An encounter with a Viennese wild boar
Climbing through the woods after a cloudburst, I follow the path around a corner to find myself confronting a group of wild boar – four or five hulking adults and countless piglets – known, charmingly, as Frischlinge in German.
I am closer to them than either they, or I, would wish.
I turn and walk slowly away, avoiding sudden movements.
Moments later I hear a noise behind me like galloping horse, and turn to see a massive wild boar, head down, charging straight at me.
Clearly, it can run faster than I can. What to do?
I have some experience of wild boar. I know that they are mostly shy, and keep out of the way of people. My approach has always been to assume that they are more frightened of me than I am of them. So how can it come about that you find yourself being charged by a wild boar? What should you do? Since my experience, I have done a bit of research to find out.
It all began as a walk in the park. I had come back from attending the commemoration events at Mauthausen concentration camp near Linz and felt like stretching my legs. So I drove to the Lainzer Tiergarten, a historic park on the edge of Vienna which features steep, wooded hills, a lookout tower, parkland and, as always in Austria, well-placed scenic cafes.
Sunshine after the rain in the glorious Lainzer Tiergarten
After a spell of sunshine, the colours rendered all the more lovely by the fact that it had just stopped raining, a fresh downpour emptied the park of all but a few intrepid, well-equipped or foolhardy walkers. Walking in the rain, I was delighted to see a group of maybe 25 wild boar, both adults and infants, cross the path about 100 metres ahead and head into the forest. In nine years in Germany and nearly four in Austria I had never seen wild boar so close up.
Half an hour later, the rain had stopped. I had just passed the Rasthaus Hirschgstemm and started climbing into the woods when I almost walked into a second large group of boar, again comprising adults and juniors. A couple of the adults started, obviously disturbed by my arrival. I remembered that in this situation you were supposed to avoid alarming the animals. So I began, slowly, to walk away from the group.
It was at this point at I heard the thundering sound behind me and turned to discover I was in a dangerous situation.
Not having prior experience of boar attacks, I ran, seeking refuge. A pile of tree-trunks looked easier for me to climb than for the boar; I attempted to scale it and slipped on the wet wood, scratching and bruising myself in multiple locations as I scrambled to a place of safety.
By the time I turned round, the boar (no doubt thinking “that’s got rid of that swine”) had trotted back to join the rest of the group, which was melting back into the forest.
All my minor injuries were self-inflicted: the boar never made contact. A visit to the doctor the next morning revealed no broken bones: but she put my hand in a pity-inducing splint to stabilise it while the bruising went down.
The pity-inducing splint
So, what might I have done differently? I have googled a range of advice, most of which tells you that attacks are rare and that if you come across a group of wild boar you should take care not to alarm them. Experts point out that, notwithstanding the generally non-aggressive nature of boar, you should take special care if both adults and young are present and should on no account attempt to stroke or feed the Frischlinge.
Hard to argue with that.
I found this piece of advice, which places wild boar, alongside elephants, rhinos, crocodiles and hippos, amongst the world’s most dangerous animals (“thick, razor-sharp tusks and a razor-sharp mind”). Perhaps most useful I found this (in German) which, after telling you repeatedly that boar are unlikely to attack, says that if they do, you should climb some rocks or a tree (“you will be surprised at your climbing skills if a boar is chasing you”) and helpfully points out that boars have a nasty bite which can lead to “extreme injuries”.
I also found the British site friendsoftheboar, including the sentence: “Sadly, stories over the centuries from hunters have led to caricatures of charging boar with big tusks”. I have sympathy with these arguments: researching this blog I found a couple of grisly video compilations showing boars interacting with hunters. These left me in every case rooting for the boar.
But clearly, as my experience shows, there is a residual risk even for a peacenik hiker.
A beautiful forest path in the Lainzer Tiergarten: no boar in sight
So what would I do next time, based on my experience of a single boar attack?
(i) if I again came across boar unexpectedly close-up, I would, as a first action, check where I might take refuge in the improbable event that one of the boars felt threatened. I might look for a tree or other obstacle to climb or get behind;
(ii) if I were moving away from a group of boar again, I would walk backwards so I could see, in the even more improbable event that one were heading my way (NB readers have pointed out that this would increase my chances of tripping over something and injuring myself, making the choice between walking backwards and forwards a difficult one);
(iii) in the incalculably improbable event that a boar charged me again, I would try to take refuge by climbing something or getting behind or on top of something. My bruises and scratches are insignificant compared with being gored by a charging boar;
(iv) as a last resort, I might follow the advice of some websites to jump aside at the last moment. But this sounds a risky manoeuvre to me.
Will I go to the Lainzer Tiergarten again? Yes; I look forward to it, and certainly bear no grudge towards the local wildlife. But next time, I would take a flask of coffee and a bar of chocolate (both certain to enhance any walk) and, as standard equipment, a first-aid kit.
PS if you want to hear more about what a British ambassador does when not escaping wild boar, do follow me on twitter at @leighturnerFCO.