“Interesting, or bad, news depending on how you look at it,” announced Jack, my husband, striding across my clean floor in his forest-dirty boots.
“What’s happened?” I said, automatically reaching for the dustpan and brush.
“Nathan has just informed me we have a freak running around the enclosed section of the forest.”
Nathan, our forester, is very French, a complete treasure, and best left alone to tend to his trees.
“Oh, right, that sounds intriguing. Any clues on what it might be?”
“He reckons it’s some kind of mutant boar.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, of course I’m sure, I might be ancient but I haven’t gone deaf yet.”
“Nooo, I mean what’s wrong with it?”
“He says it’s got a white blaze on its nose and white socks.”
“Crikey, if that’s the case it’s definitely different. Odd though, we’re out there so often you’d have thought we’d have seen it.”
The forest is equipped with several wildlife observation hides. We decided to alter our regular nature watching vigils by using those situated in the reported sighting area. I threw together picnics for each session, and on one evening we got lucky, but for different reasons.
Fledgling roe deer with glossy coats broke cover in the early evening sun. We watched as they played tag in the meadow, gamboling on ungainly legs, as yet unused to proper control. When the game was won the game changed.
While this was going on others headed for mobile milk-bars, hoping for a refreshing snack. But they were out of luck – it was mealtime for mums too. Leaping and springing came next, followed by the occasional exploratory trek to another part of the field. Judging by the way the young adventurers came bounding back, it had been a pretty scary adventure.
Fatigued, wibbly-wobbly legs won the day, and the young families lay down in cool, lush grass, babies watching parents, learning how to graze. It had become a serene tableau, punctuated only by a lolloping hare going peaceably about its business.
As dusk fell the scene changed.
Feral squeals and banshee cries caught our attention, auguring the arrival of our target species. I glanced back at the deer, but they had all melted into the safety of the forest.
Out came they came, crashing through the undergrowth like a band of unruly Orcs. Eight shaggy wild boar, only two car-lengths from our hide. As usual, we were enthralled.
We watched them barge and charge, then rootle for bugs – making mincemeat of the meadow grass. Finally, darkness got the better of us and we were driven back in. No freaks here, just a mob of fine healthy animals.
A few days later all that changed.
Jack came in chuckling his head off. “Come and have a look at this, I’ve spotted Nathan’s mutant!”
“Great,” I yelled, dashing downstairs. “Have you taken a photo?”
“One better,” he said, grinning from ear to ear, “I have a video.”
He proudly showed me the footage of our forest freak. This was no wild boar it looked very much like a young Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.
“How funny,” I giggled, “No wonder Nathan thought a terrible accident of nature had occurred.”
“I know, on the whole I’d say he’s better with tree IDs.”
“Make sure you break the news gently, you know how good you are at mortally wounding people,” I warned, picturing Jack’s lamentable interpersonal skills in action. “Anyway, I wonder how it got in?”
“I reckon someone strong chucked it over the fence.”
Jack duly broke the news to Nathan, which generated a new anxiety. Despite Jack’s assurances about it being a very young animal, Nathan remained sceptical. He was convinced it would be interbreeding within moments. It would be the originator of bizarre hybrids, he counselled, and should be exterminated immediately.
A few days later Jean-Luc Bustamente, a local hunter, and his farmer pal were searching for mushrooms in our forest. (Incidentally, this is a strange and passionate pastime for many of the locals, the novelty of which we have yet to fully appreciate.) After showing me their decidedly moth-eaten looking ceps, I asked if they knew of anyone who had lost a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig.
The men took some time to establish that I hadn’t gone stark raving mad before exclaiming, “Non!” They assured me they’d ask around, and issued me with another series of dire warnings about the dangers of ‘genetic engineering’. They left shaking their heads in dismay.
We live in a tiny community so it came as no surprise to us when the village jungle drums started beating.
A couple of hours later the phone rang. It was Jerome Dupont, president of the hunt adjacent to our land. He asked to visit. The following morning he turned up, taking half the door frame with him as he entered the house. Jerome is not small. He slip-slapped in, wearing flip-flops, which looked like pink pancakes, and seated himself on one-and-a-half chairs in the kitchen.
Jack showed him the video, which caused a great furrowing of brows.
Expressing himself in French he said, “No, this is not a boar.”
I ignored Jack’s sotto voce congratulation on his brilliant deduction.
“I know the owner,” Jerome said. “Apparently he was walking it on a lead at the fete. It slipped its collar and escaped.”
This time Jack couldn’t help himself. “Pull the other one!” he guffawed, in English.
Jerome looked completely baffled, and continued to do so despite our phraseology explanations. It seems there wasn’t a sensible translation.
“Anyway, it must be shot immediately,” Jerome concluded.
“You’re the third person to tell us that,” Jack remonstrated, “it’s becoming repetitive. We understand the potential issues, but I assure you there is currently no risk of reproduction. It’s far too immature.”
“Ah, but they grow very quickly you know. “
“Look, it would need a step ladder to mount one of our boar, it’s tiny.”
Jerome shrugged his shoulders in that frightfully French way.
“If you do not shoot it, I am obliged to tell the Federation de Chasse, and they are likely to come onto your land and destroy it.”
Jerome was beginning to sound like the Grim Reaper.
Jack doesn’t like being told what to do, and especially regarding matters that involve – well...anything, really. I cut in before he said something I would later regret.
“We understand completely, Jerome, but we’re going to try to trap it first.”
“Trap it? The pig?”
I nodded encouragingly but Jerome wasn’t remotely convinced. He left with further dismal warnings of failing to act and other generally unsupportive portents of doom.
“Bloody hell, what’s wrong with everyone?” fumed Jack. “What do I have to do to convince them the little bugger’s only knee-high to a grasshopper and utterly harmless.”
Whilst I wasn’t convinced it would be that small, I did want to try everything we could to trap him. If we didn’t do something, at this rate we’d have the Federation charging in with all guns blazing, and there wouldn’t be a thing we could do to prevent it.
We borrowed a humane, fox-sized box trap and set it in the spot where Jack had last seen it. One week later and still no success, on the other hand, Jack was making progress in his bonding endeavours.
“Speedy little chap, I can get to within about 20 paces then he sprints off like a greyhound.”
Finally we got lucky. Jack called me from the forest. “No need for mass murder, we’ve trapped the perp!”
I called Jerome to tell him our good news. He sounded reluctantly impressed and told me he’d call the owner to come and collect it.
Jack pulled up outside the tractor shed with a sack partially covering the trap. He gently drew it back and inside was a teeny tiny, cute piglet. Black and white with huge eyes and extra-long black lashes, he was terrified.
“Oh, Jack, what a sweetheart! No wonder you said there wouldn’t be a problem with hybrid breeding, this pint-sized guy’s smaller than Brutus.”
“Not difficult. Our cat is the size and weight of a Labrador, Beth.”
“Argh, don’t exaggerate, you know what I mean,” I chided, cooing at our miniature visitor.
Jerome phoned to say the owner would be with us in an hour. He added that he didn’t think the man was “sérieux” so would I please take photos of the trap as evidence of what we had done. I wasn’t sure what being ‘serious’ had to do with anything, but went along with his request anyway.
In the meantime Nathan had arrived.
“It has changed colour,” he grunted.
“It’s a couple of weeks since you last saw it, perhaps the colour has developed,” I replied, impressed by his astute powers of wildlife observation.
“Its nose and legs, they are brown now,” he said, pointing at our grubby runaway.
“It’s, mud, Nathan,” chortled Jack, “he’s just been rolling in a puddle.”
Nathan and animals just aren’t on the same wavelength at all.
Nathan looked perplexed, mumbled something unintelligible and returned to his dependable timber. Meanwhile, Jack, confirmed wannabe animal hater, was fast becoming best pals with the piglet.
He decided we must put it somewhere more comfortable while we waited for his un-serious owner to arrive, and went off in search of a dog crate. We set it up, equipped it with food and water, then slid the little lad in to await his master.
Just as we were beginning to think Jerome was right, a car rolled up and out came two men. Cutting a rather alarming figure in a bright orange boiler suit, monsieur said he had come straight from work. Aside from human traffic cone, I couldn’t possibly imagine what he did for a living. Monsieur explained that his friend had come along to help. Jack gave him a despairing look but fortunately chose not to comment.
“Right, so, is this yours, monsieur?” said Jack, back to business.
This was odd.
“So why are you here?”
“It is was wedding present.”
“A wedding present?” said Jack, totally thrown. “Oh, well – congratulations. But – about the pig…”
“Ah, no, you do not understand, it was not my wedding. It was my niece’s.”
“Oh, I see. Well, congratulations to her. Is it normal practice to give pigs as presents here?”
“No, it is not at all normal.”
I was beginning to lose the plot, Jack was clearly becoming frustrated.
“My niece lost it at the fete – the pig,” he added unhelpfully.
Since this story was getting taller by the minute, we decided to get on with practical matters. Jack asked the man if he had a carrier for the animal. One was duly produced and we stood back to allow monsieur to collect his belonging.
Monsieur obviously wasn’t a pro at this sort of thing. He knelt down and started gingerly stretching towards the animal. Terrified, it shrank back from his orangeness, just out of reach. Halfway in the cage, monsieur paused then, for some reason unbeknownst to anyone other than himself, lunged aggressively at the piglet. This was a very bad idea. The cage jolted violently and monsieur began howling in dismay.
“Is the animal injured?” I asked anxiously.
“No! It has bitten me!”
“Well done,” hissed Jack.
Monsieur steadfastly refused to have another go at catching the captive. Instead, he pouted and sucked his poorly digit while his mate did the job for him. It was stowed away in the car and the two men made a half-hearted attempt at thanking us before speeding away.
“Poor little bugger,” sighed Jack as we watched them disappear. “What a couple of twits. If I’d had an orange blimp coming at me, I’d have bitten it too.”
“I agree. Mind you, I won’t be surprised if the piglet appears in our forest again before too long. That man didn’t seem at all happy to have him back.”
We walked back to the house filled with mixed feelings. Of course we understood the need to keep the indigenous species pure, but there was no immediate risk of any problems. Trapping turned out to be easier than we had anticipated, and in a funny sort of way, the little chap had begun to grow on us.
To-date, there hasn’t been a new sighting. But if our runaway porker does reappear, we’ll trap him somehow and this time he’ll stay. We have a lovely boar-free enclosure that would suit a miniature Vietnamese pot-bellied pig down to the ground.