Every spring, at least one litter of piglets is born in the large enclosure for wild boars between the Aare river and the Dählhölzli forest. When I walked along the river path beside the zoo today, I joined the crowd of parents holding up small children to see the antics of ten tiny furred and striped baby boars, dashing around exploring their new home. The mother sow was sprawled in the shade by a hollow log, letting her hyperactive offspring exhaust themselves. I imagined her thinking, “Great. If the little monsters keep this up, maybe they’ll sleep through the night so I can get some decent rest for a change.” Since boars are nocturnal, this is a very silly piece of anthropomorphizing, but I bet most mothers can identify with it.
The gamboling piglets by the Aare have become a sign of spring for me, along with swathes of daffodils in the Elfenau, where the city’s greenhouses are located, and white-flowering fruit trees blooming in half the gardens in my neighborhood. Of course what plants bloom when is different every year, thanks to the fickleness of Bern’s weather. Today’s high will be 18° C (64° F), while tomorrow there is a 100% chance of snow. It won’t stay on the ground long, though. In another month I’ll be planting geraniums and sweet alyssum on my balcony.
Also in another month, the piglets won’t be as cute as they are now. But if things run true to form, they’ll be entertaining zoo visitors and casual walkers along the Aare all summer long. And then, one day in the fall—sometime in October—they won’t be around anymore. Their enclosure will house one boar, two sows, and…that’s it. In Swiss restaurants, grocery stores, and butcher shops, the autumn is game season. Venison, pheasant, and hare are on every menu—and so is wild boar.
Ah, where do those piggies go every fall? I’m not lamenting their evident deaths. It’s clear they can’t be kept; ten-to-twenty new boars a year would first overrun the entire zoo and then the city of Bern. But I like to imagine that their sale each fall to a humane butcher has contributed to a special fund. Perhaps the zookeepers are saving for the purchase of an 800-pound boar from the Ussuri region on the Amur river between Russia and China. The Ussuri boar is the giant of the pig family and would make an apt memorial for all those piglets.
Of course there’s another fitting and very natural end to the piggies’ story: Bern’s zoo has leopards.