Doing the “dirty work”: how hunters were enlisted in sanitary rituals and wild boars destruction to fight Belgium’s ASF (African Swine Fever) outbreak

Pauline EMOND, Charlotte BRÉDA & Dorothée DENAYER

en Anthropozoologica 56 (6) - Pages 87-104

Published on 23 April 2021

This article is a part of the thematic issue Suidae in ritual contexts in contemporary times

In the early autumn of 2018, a virus as contagious as it is deadly, carried by wild boars (Sus scrofa Linnaeus, 1758) with the probable involvement of humans, crossed the Belgian border. African swine fever, which only affects suidae, is rapidly spreading in the forests of Gauma. The boar, whose status has gradually shifted from a regional emblem to a symbol of hunting abuses, finds itself abruptly transformed into a sanitary threat needing to be eliminated. The wild swine can contaminate its domestic cousin, the farmed pig (Sus domesticus Erxleben, 1777). Therefore, the spread of the virus would jeopardise the fragile Belgian pig farming sector concentrated in the north of the country. This is the start of a crisis that will last for more than 24 months; the infec­ted forest is zoned and then isolated for the purpose of sanitisation, while “biosecurity” and “white zone” become the only watchwords. Mass destruction measures for wild boars are imposed by the administration and its experts through new so-called “sanitary rituals”. To achieve a rapid “return to normal”, hunters – mostly local ones – are enlisted in the name of their hunting skills, which, although they are usually contested by a part of Belgian society and media, are considered essential in this case. This event brings us to an exploration of the practices actors are attached to and forced to renounce to in the name of good crisis management. On-the-ground realities as related by field men bear witness to the unease felt in the face of the “dirty work” asked of them, while the upheaval of coexistence reveals ethical, tradition- and identity-related questions already existing before the crisis.


Health crisis, hunting, culling, biosecurity.

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