Wild boars are in the news again. Seldom a week goes by these days without news of a wild boar causing some kind of commotion in the city. Wild boar sightings and nuisance reports are up again this year with over 500 instances, compared with around 400 over the same period last year. The same goes for the capture of the porcine mischief-makers with close to 300 being caught last year, most of which were later released into country parks.
Despite the government’s best efforts to control the pigs via a sterilisation programme, boars are showing up in urban areas in increasing numbers and more unexpected places. Last month, the mother of pop star Coco Lee fractured her hip as a result of a boar encounter on the Peak. A few years ago, one was even spotted on the tarmac at Chek Lap Kok.
The increase in the number of human-boar encounters has been attributed to people feeding them, despite efforts by the government to discourage the practice.
Dr Leung Siu-fai, director of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), has suggested that the problem has become so serious that the pigs may need to be “removed”. This term, of course, is a euphemism for “euthanise”, which in this case is a nice way of saying “kill”.
Interestingly, another spokesperson for the AFCD, when addressing the department’s plans to control the porcine population, admitted that in some cases the animals had to be “humanely dispatched” – yet another euphemism.
The compassion shown towards our local boars has led to the formation of the Hong Kong Wild Boar Concern Group, which firmly objects to any harm perpetrated against local wild swine. The group wants to discourage people from feeding the pigs while advocating benign coexistence.
Curiously, the overly gentle treatment accorded to our wild boars, even the ones that do damage or cause injury, comes at a time when their domestic brethren are being slaughtered for pork at a rate per day in Hong Kong that is roughly equal to the entire estimated population of wild boars, about 3000, in our country parks.
Go figure. Public officials will do linguistic somersaults to avoid using the word “kill” when referring to the culling of nuisance wild hogs. Others in the city love them so much that they go out of their way to feed the odd boar that finds itself in the city. And some have even established a special interest group to protect the boars. In the meantime, however, collectively, Hongkongers daily devour the equivalent of the entire population of wild boars living in the territory when they sit down to dinner.
How does one explain this apparent hypocrisy? Several answers come to mind.
First and foremost is the way pork, or for that matter, any type of meat, is sold. Often it is bought in a supermarket wrapped in plastic as chunks of red flesh, far removed from the sacrificed, sentient creature. Thus, the unpleasantness of the slaughterhouse is long sanitized. Another reason has to do with numbers. As Joseph Stalin apparently commented, “a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” Thus, when a wild boar enters the city and after being injured is put down (another euphemism), there is sometimes an outpouring of sympathy for the animal because we can identify with this single death. On the other hand, the daily slaughter of thousands of pigs for human consumption is abstract.
But thirdly and perhaps most importantly, humans are specialists at avoiding cognitive dissonance, the mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs. Although we all know that wild boars and domestic pigs are essentially the same animal, we rationalise the dissonance by categorising the two animals differently. One is a critter; the other is a commodity.
In the end, if you’ve read this far, and you eat pork, you may be feeling some cognitive dissonance… but only if you are a wild boar lover.
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