Hunting wild boar in Batu Pahat

Hunting wild boar in Batu Pahat
Mr Koh Lai Waad, 54, carries one of the wild boars that was killed out of the oil palm plantation with the help of a friend.

BATU PAHAT, Johor - Once a week, sometimes twice, a group of men gather in the oil palm plantations of Batu Pahat in Johor to blast the living hell out of wild pigs.

Our guide is fisherman Koh Lai Waad, 54, known to everyone there as Ah Huat. He has a warm, deeply creased smile that is missing some teeth. Like all the men in the hunting party, he has been making life difficult for the pigs there since he was a teen.

He hunts wild boar for sport, he says in Mandarin. Though it all sounds extraordinarily macho and adventurous to me, a Singaporean city boy, it will become apparent later why only middle-aged or older men are in this group.

The first thing we do is to go pick up the dogs. We drive in a vehicle belonging to a Singaporean friend of Ah Huat's to the home of Ah Huat's relations.

Seven mongrels, lean working animals, leap into the battered white-panel van.

It is close to noon. Like Singapore, the area is baked and brown; rain has not been seen in weeks. Another relative of Ah Huat's starts off on a motorcycle towards the oil palm groves around the village of Bagan. He is the group's tracker.

We arrive. Hunts take place in abandoned oil palm plantations because the fruit on the ground attracts animals such as boars. Our group's tracker points to tell-tale signs. There is freshly overturned mud at a wallow, a low point in the ground in which the pigs gather to bathe.

We are joined by more men. No one here is dressed in camouflage or gear- studded vests. They are all in thick brown or beige cotton work clothes, like what you would find at a construction site. On their feet are cheap slip-on shoes or rubber boots.

At least three of them are carrying shotguns, guns which send out a spray of pellets instead of a single bullet. The men hold a 10-minute discussion about tactics.

A few men, including Ah Huat, will form one apex of a box at one end of the plantation. They will use the dogs and their shouts to drive the pigs into the killing zone, watched over by the men with guns at the other corners of the box.

The photographer and I are assigned to stick close to Mr Yen Long Swee, 64, a chain-smoking fisherman with a tight black perm and a relaxed, sleepy manner.

His shotgun is slung over one shoulder. There are a few safety rules, he tells us. We are to stay 100m back and he needs to be able to see us at all times. Since he is not allowed by law to fire in the direction of dwellings, we stand between him and some houses, several hundred metres away at the edge of the plantation.

He tells us that he has been involved in hunts since he was a boy. Back then, he was a beater like Ah Huat. Now, he is a shooter.

From him and from other hunters, we learn about the guns. Only landowners can get licences for weapons, to clear property of pests. They buy shells at the police station, at RM60 (S$23) for a box of 25.

The worst gun accident, says Mr Yen, happened when a greenhorn shooter hit another hunter in the leg, giving him a minor wound. A wounded boar once gutted a dog with its tusks, he says. You do not want to be close to a wounded pig, he adds.

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