WARSAW, Poland -- Tens of thousands of Poles are protesting a government plan to hold a massive slaughter of wild boars as a way to stop the spread of the deadly African swine fever among farm pigs.
Poland's veterinary and farming officials approved the plan last year to kill 185,000 wild boars this season. Critics are protesting the government's move to speed up that cull by asking all licensed hunters to hunt and kill boars on weekends this month.
Environmentalists say up to 200,000 wild boars — or almost the country's entire population — including pregnant females, could be killed across Poland by the end of the month.
Almost 80,000 people have signed an appeal to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki for an immediate stop to the mass hunt. They also demand that the agriculture minister be fired for having approved the "shameful idea of the extermination of the species."
Officials say the mass hunt is a way of stopping African swine fever that has been spreading in farms in eastern Poland. Residents on city outskirts, including those around Warsaw, often complain about wild boars roaming in search for food and posing a threat to them.
But environmentalists and some hunters say it's a pointless slaughter that will only cause the animals to migrate elsewhere and will have dire consequences for the entire ecosystem.
"The massacre of wild boar in large-scale hunts will not stop the (African swine fever,) it will rather help the spread of the virus to western Poland," says the appeal by environmental organizations.
It said people are responsible for the disease's spread by neglecting precaution measures, and that the disease has not been eliminated despite efforts since 2015 to hunt and kill the boars.
Critics also say that the plan is primarily designed to win the votes of apprehensive farmers and of hunters ahead of crucial elections to the European and local parliament.