Every so often, wild pigs venture from the hillside into Hong Kong’s urban areas. Several specimens found ambling around Causeway Bay recently were shot with a tran­quilliser gun and released into the wild, when they should have been humanely destroyed on the spot. The broader reasons why that did not happen illustrate Hong Kong official­dom’s flaccid responses to local issues.

Before the animal-rights lobby starts shrieking, let us examine some facts. Wild pig populations have reached near-epidemic propor­tions in recent years, many of them close to densely populated urban districts. How has this situation evolved?

Boars shot with tranquilliser gun after downtown Hong Kong jaunt

Feral pigs – descendants of domesticated agricultural escapees that eventually revert­ed to their former wild state – are a well-documented feature of Hong Kong’s countryside. Wild-pig popu­lations grew from the late-19th century, when land near agri­cul­tural districts became protected water-catchment areas (most are now country parks), which restricted both development and human access, and offered sanctuary to runaways.

Their occasional capture by farmers helped keep feral-pig numbers down, especially around the fringes of villages. The animals’ need to forage extensively for food also kept populations in check. Feral pigs were periodically hunted, with appropriate weapons permits, in the New Territories well into the 1980s; long-term residents, with police or army connections, vividly recall taking part in these expedi­tions. Villagers – whose crops were inter­mittently laid waste by the creatures – were only too happy to indicate where wild-pig lairs might be found.

Over the past decade or so, populations have surged due to abundant food waste left on country-park trails, and in open rubbish bins around residential develop­ments in areas such as The Peak, Tai Tam, Clear Water Bay and Sai Kung.

High-protein items, such as meat scraps and barbecue leftovers, meant that better-nourished sows produced larger litters with a correspondingly higher propor­tion of piglets surviving into adulthood. The next generation, in turn, reproduced themselves in similar numbers; within years, the carrying capacity of the available – and annually shrinking – countryside areas was reached and exceeded, with inevitable Malthusian results.

Tranquillisation and release of captured specimens, or the trap-neuter-release propo­sals suggested by well-intended animal-rights activists, who, for the most part, over­look the fate of several thousand domesti­cated pigs slaughtered daily in Hong Kong for food, deftly ignore the potential threat to humans. If provoked, wild pigs can be ferocious. Boars, in particular, have razor-sharp tusks specifically evolved to disembowel their prey.

It is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured – or killed – by an aggravated or frightened feral pig. An angry 100kg sow protecting her litter will not behave with anthropo­morphic cute­ness, like some Hong Kong version of Babe, and an easily foreseeable tragedy will unfurl within seconds.

Two elderly victims injured by wild boar at public housing estate

And what are the likely trigger scenarios? A social-media addict – in blind pursuit of that oh-so-important Instagram moment – will get too close for either safety or escape. Or some would-be he-man, displaying roughie-toughie swagger before his cringing, mewling girlfriend, will find fake bravado met with genuine aggression. Or – most likely – an unsupervised child will get fatally gored near a picnic area.

Given Hong Kong’s political dysfunc­tion, nothing likely to engender further public protest – such as a controlled cull of feral-pig populations – will be enter­tain­ed by those allegedly in authority. Until someone gets killed or seriously injured, and then a huge public outpour­ing will be followed by the usual official hand-wringing and tepid expla­na­tions for their earlier disinclination to act.

Finger-pointing, bitter recrimina­tions and “why did not they do some­thing before …” accusations and counter­claims will keep the public distracted for weeks.