Farmers in Italy blame wild boar for wrecking crops and causing traffic accidents.
Hundreds of farmers took to the streets of Rome and 19 other regional Italian capitals on Thursday to protest what they say is an "invasion" of wild boar on farmland and city suburbs.
The rallies were organised by Coldiretti, the country's largest farmers' association, which claims the number of wild boar roaming around Italy has soared to a record 2.3 million animals.
Blaming the wild boar for causing "€2 million worth of damage" to crops every year, Coldiretti also said that 16 people had died in Italy in the past year as a result of incidents involving the tusked animals, with 215 people injured, reports Italian news agency ANSA.
The number of car crashes caused by the 'cinghiali' on Italy's provincial roads has almost doubled over the past decade, according to Coldiretti, which issued the results of a survey claiming that one in four Italian adults (26 per cent) have encountered a live wild boar.
Calling for government action, around 1,000 protesters rallied outside Montecitorio in Rome - reports Italian newspaper La Repubblica - with appeals to "halt a disaster that destroys crops, attacks animals, besieges stables and causes road accidents, with concrete dangers for farmers and citizens."
Wielding life-size cut-outs of wild boar, the protesters waved banners that read: "We sow, the wild boar reap" and "After covid, the plague of wild boar."
Responding to the protest at Montecitorio, Italy's agriculture minister Stefano Patuanelli said: "It is clear that this situation can no longer continue and as such I can assure you of my maximum personal commitment to give answers that all of you are entitled to have from the state."
Joining the protesters at Montecitorio was Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing Lega party, who claimed: "Killing wild boars is in the interest of the wild boars themselves," reports state broadcaster RAI.
"I love animals, but if I want to keep an animal at home I'll choose a dog, a cat or a goldfish" - said Salvini - "I don't want wild boar in the bedroom, or in the fields of those who work."
LAV, one of Italy's foremost animal rights organisations, said the accusations heard at the rally in Rome "sound like an exaggerated distortion of reality" and that the protest "demonstrates the uselessness of hunting," reports RAI.
Wild boar can be "hunted 24 hours a day, 365 days a year" since 2005, said Massimo Vitturi, LAV representative with responsibility for wild animals, who said the number of boars is growing "despite a frenzied hunting regime."
Vitturi also cited the "widespread introduction of animals from eastern Europe" for hunting purposes, and called for a "change of course" to allow co-existence between wild animals and human activity.
Known as cinghiali in Italian, the animals can weigh up to 140 kg and are extremely dangerous if disturbed while with their young.
Cover photo La Repubblica