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Wild boar adds suspense to Sunday drive on Park Boulevard

PINELLAS PARK — The flurry of 911 calls was the first indication that Sunday was not going to be the typical end to a lazy weekend.

"Uh … I just saw a large pig running … a pig. A wild pig." "A wild what?" "It was a pig, a wild pig" "A wild pig?" "Yeah."

"There's a hog running down Park Boulevard. And he's almost caused a couple of accidents." "Did you say a hog?" "A hog, yes, ma'am, a black hog." "Okay. That's what I thought you said."

"I don't think it's an emergency, honey, but we're sitting at the red light at Park Boulevard and 49th Street and a pig just got hit by a pickup truck. But it got up. … I hope it's okay."

The boar was okay. It bolted into the parking lot of the former Albertsons and then into the residential neighborhood behind the store. From there, it headed north, toward Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where the annual fall festival with its enticing aromas of cotton candy, funnel cake and other fair food was winding down.

But the boar never made it to the festival. Fearing the critter could injure someone or cause a major traffic accident if it blundered into the festival attendees, Pinellas Park police officers tried to catch it. When that didn't work, they used a Taser. When that failed, they shot the boar 12 times just to make sure it really was dead.

No one seems to know where the boar came from or how it got to Park and 49th — one of the county's largest and busiest intersections — with no fanfare. But once it was spotted, things got exciting pretty quickly.

"Both my daughter and I saw a black, what looked like a really big dog," said Jennifer Gilkey of St. Petersburg. Gilkey, who was returning from a horse show, was hauling two horses. She was in a turn lane on Park preparing to go south on 49th. "It was coming straight at us."

Gilkey stopped her red GMC Sierra truck so she wouldn't hit the animal. As it got closer, she realized it wasn't a dog but was a "really big black pig."

"He kept coming at us and smashed right into the truck. He was terrified. He smashed into the front of our truck with a big thump, rolled underneath the truck," Gilkey said. She heard "commotion" from under the truck and, as she and her daughter started to get out, "I saw him roll out from underneath and he took off."

The boar bolted onto the former Albertsons property and disappeared. Gilkey called 911 and "said we had just hit a pig but actually the pig hit us."

There was no damage to the truck and, no evidence that the boar had been injured.

"It was a strange experience, and I sort of feel bad about the poor animal wherever he came from," Gilkey said.

By this time, Pinellas Park police had been alerted to the wayward porker. They found it in the residential neighborhood around 46th Street and 76th Avenue N.

Police were able to trap the boar between two houses, but not before it had charged a couple of officers and a woman who was watching from a fenced yard. It also managed to knock down one officer. When they tried to get the animal into a cage, it eluded police and took off "in a direction toward the Sacred Heart festival," Pinellas Park police spokesman Sandy Forseth said. In the interest of community safety, police escalated their efforts.

They brought out the Tasers.

"The Taser did not have any significant impact," Forseth said.

Their next choice — their Glock .45-caliber handguns.

"The officer shot several times and it appeared not to have an effect," Forseth said. Finally, after six shots, the boar hit the ground. When police walked up to the boar, it was still alive. They shot it six more times to prevent any further suffering.

The SPCA of Tampa Bay took the boar's body away. Forseth said he believes the boar will either go to the landfill or be cremated.

What, no barbecue?

"There might be some lead poisoning issues with the meat," Forseth said.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

fast facts

Florida's wild boars

Florida has between half a million and 1 million wild boars, said Gary Morse, a spokesman for the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"Wild hogs are common in just about every place in the state they can exist," Morse said. "They're one of those animals that's highly adaptable."

It's unclear, he said, how many are in Pinellas County, although it's not thought to be many because the area is so developed. Sometimes, Morse said, "they'll travel down the Pinellas Trail just like the coyotes will." And, he said, they can be hard to kill "unless you know where to place the bullet. … When you're going hog hunting, it really helps to understand the physiology of the animal because its physical makeup makes it hard to take down."

Other facts

• Wild boars are the No. 1 food item for Florida panthers.

• They are not native to North America. They were first brought to this country by Spanish explorers in the 1500s.

• Smell is by far the most advanced of the pig's senses and they are thought to have rather bad eyesight.

• Known by some wildlife biologists as "eating machines," they damage agricultural crops, degrade wildlife habitat and consume ground-nesting bird eggs, reptiles, amphibians, or just about anything else they come across.

• Their average weight is between 110 and 200 pounds, although boars larger than 600 pounds have been reported. They have short, bristly fur that ranges from gray to black to brown. The males have tusks that are about 7.9 inches long. Females have shorter tusks. They grind their upper tusks against their lower to produce sharp edges.

Sources: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Ohio Department of Natural Resources

Hear the 911 calls

Listen as surprised motorists call to report a wild boar on Park Boulevard. Visit links.tampabay.com.

Wild boar adds suspense to Sunday drive on Park Boulevard 10/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 6:29pm]

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