With no predators, high reproduction rate, millions of hungry hogs tear up American landscape-

Like most omnivores, pigs are smart. In addition, they are big, requiring a lot of food, and are physiologically similar enough to humans to share and transmit many of our diseases.

Pigs have been escaping from farms for a very long time. In addition, back in 1912 European wild boar were brought from Europe to add another game species.  When they bothered to fence the boar, they escaped anyway and the feral population grew. Now the population keeps expanding to entirely new places mostly because some hunters keep transplanting them. There are perhaps 6-million of them on the loose in the United States.

Folks in the Rocky Mountain states are generally not familiar with feral hogs, but they are a huge problem for agriculture and certain birds, reptiles and mammals in Texas, Florida, the southern states in general and California.  People are going to have a good chance to get to know them because only two of the lower 48 states are still hog-free.

They are not easy to hunt or trap because they are so smart. Hunting does little to tame their population growth (especially when there are hunters deliberately creating new populations).  ”Free range” wild pig is said to be tasty, but then this itself seems to be a matter of taste.  Some call them greasy, with a stronger taste than conventional pork. Of course, pork from animals that themselves eat just about anything depends on age, condition, what the hog’s diet has been, plus parasite load.

There are those people who worry that wild wolves present a potential threat to humans because they often harbor Echinococcus granulosus, a tapeworm of canids. Compared to what hogs carry this wolf worry is a cause for a big belly laugh.  Our friends at the federal agency, APHIS, list the following contagous diseases from feral hogs: “pseudorabies • swine brucellosis • classical swine fever • African swine fever • bovine tuberculosis • influenza • PRRS • anthrax • tularemia  • E. coli • salmonella • trichinosis • streptococcus • ticks, fleas, lice • internal parasites” (like the pork tapeworm).  Hog hunters need to be triply careful when dressing their kill, and the pork needs to be really cooked well.

In Montana, the livestock industry loves to try to frighten people for fun and politics with the theoretical possibility that bison and elk could transmit brucellosis to people (and the media falls for it almost every time).  However, if you look at the statistics for non-veterinary brucellosis in the United States, there are no cases from bison or elk. Most are from pork and unpasteurized (raw) milk. Brucellosis from pigs, Brucella suis, is highly pathogenic compared to the species from cattle, Brucellis abortis.

It is hard to know how to reduce these feral populations. Years of experience show that hunting and trapping do not. Helicopter gunning, think Ted Nugent, quickly declines in effectiveness because these smart animals hear the copters coming. know what that means and know how to hide. Poison works quite well, but you don’t want to poison these large animals that will be eaten by wildlife, dogs, and by people.

It would seem that contraceptives might work, but no distributable hog contraceptive has been developed so far, and broadcast contraceptives have some of the same side effects as poison. Estrogenic hormones in the environment are already a problem for fish and wildlife and perhaps even more basic species (microorganisms).

There is a national feral swine control program implemented mostly by Wildlife Services, in a rare instance where they are not killing our native wildlife. Many states also have state  feral hog control programs.  Control and elimination of feral hogs must employ a variety of methods at the same time.

There is a lot of irony that perhaps 1500 wild wolves in the West causes a huge political stir despite effects that are hard to document, while 6-million hogs ripping up the ground is hard to get public attention. This is another example how our perception of risk and danger is culturally conditioned and not based on objective facts.

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides.

42 Responses to Way out of control — feral pigs

  1. avatar Joseph C. Allen says:

    Maybe we can convince all of the wolf blasters out there to take their manly aggression out on those pigs….and while we’re at it, take on the Asian carp too

    • avatar savebears says:

      Good eating and not as easy to hunt as you might think.

      • avatar Vicki Fossen says:

        Also, highly aggressive and far more likely to attack a human as a wolf.

        There is a lot of money being made right now by hog extinguishers. I also recently read about one state confiscating some exotic pigs from a pig farm, for fear they may escape and/or become feral and breed.

        I worry that in some states they will be mistaken for javelin and wrongly harvested.

        • avatar rork says:

          Confiscating pigs might be Michigan, after our 2011 invasive species order prohibited keeping boar – but where domestic pig ends and too-much-like-wild (heirloom) begins is a thin line.
          An infamous enemy of scientific medicine and friend of lucrative quackery (Mike Adams) tried to create controversy about baby pigs being killed in cold blood as a result. More seriously, it probably did impact the wallets of folks raising these animals, and lawsuits continue. We hope that in MI, our army of hunters can keep the population rather low. We will see.

          • avatar Vicki Fossen says:

            rork,

            I will hope with you! A little money for fencing would be a lot more practical than species control.

            Crazy days.

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      It really is absurd, isn’t it.

      • avatar Vicki Fossen says:

        It is. I know it may not sound politically correct, but I am certain there are food banks which would LOVE to have as much free meat as they can get.

        To keep our ecosystems healthy, we need to act quickly to get these hogs dealt with.

        • avatar ZeeWolf says:

          What is more important?

          a) Political correctness

          b) an intact and functioning ecosystem, full of native species mingling and competing?

          One of those test taking guides said that generally when faced with a multiple choice answer, the longest one was correct.

  2. avatar Mark L says:

    Young and females are good eating….most will pass on older males…even very fresh it tastes like crap.
    Red wolves will gladly take the young out one by one….given the chance.

    • avatar Atlas says:

      I know some guys with land who catch the males and castrate and release them after a year they catch them again and they taste great.

      • avatar Mark L says:

        Yeah, this is actually a decent strategy as it allows the castrated male to defend his territory against verile males and stops his reproduction. It does, however, only last for around a year…and like you said, about the time they start to lose their ‘moxy’ they start tasting ‘OK’. They’re still too ‘pungent’ for me though, even in andouille or boudin,….nothing beats a sow or youngen’…..yummy.

  3. avatar ernie meyer says:

    maybe we should try to introduce a real predator to those states. wolves might enjoy a little wild pig.

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      I worry you’ll have as group that will say the wolves are taking more than their share and there aren’t enough left for human hunters, and the outfitters are losing money because of it.

    • avatar Vicki Fossen says:

      Ernie,
      Big can of worms. That would make the existence of wolves dependent upon a need to predate a non-native species. Good intention, maybe not such a good end result.

      The state should offer bounties on them, hey- it worked for eradicating many animals historically.

  4. Besides humans, what predators do eat wild pigs?

    • avatar Mark L says:

      Panthers (puma)….bear (occasional). There’s a saying in Texas that were it not for feral pigs, the puma in Texas would starve.

    • avatar savebears says:

      Linda,

      Virtually any that can catch and bring one down.

      Don’t you know, everybody likes bacon!

      LOL

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Pigs are an old world animal, so it is not surprising there are not a lot of efficient North American hog predators.

      Wolves, if allowed to form packs freely (not likely) might learn to attack hogs, but then it was supposed they might control the bison population in Yellowstone Park. One or two packs learned how to take bison, but they always favored elk as prey.

      Cougar probably kill feral hogs in California and the states where the hogs are now spreading to like Oregon.

      The piglets would be vulnerable to a number of predators, but the adult to few.

  5. avatar Robert R says:

    Ralph you can get 50% of the diseases from wild animals you listed. The reason the feral hogs don’t get the political attention I believe is two fold.
    First their connected to agriculture and secondly hunters are involved. In order for a large predator to handle a hog it would have to be a pack to even control a hog to kill one. I would rather deal with a bear than a feral hog.
    Hog hunting is becoming a big money maker and most don’t want to pay money to hunt a pest.

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      Robert R,

      Ag interests are quite concerned about feral hogs because they do a lot of crop (and equipment!!) damage with their routing. In the South, the hogs even destroy cotton fields. In the midwest, corn is destroyed.

      Here is one of many ag-related web sites warning of hogs. Feral Hogs: Public Enemy no. One Farm Futures.

      Because hogs eat the same things (and more) as most big game animals, most hunters have no interest in promoting hogs unless they watch that stupid reality TV show and all decide the being hog hunters is totally awesome.

      • avatar Robert R says:

        Ralph I have hunted hogs in Texas and seen how the rout things up. What amazed me was how they fallow any livestock that has been fed grain or corn. The hogs would eat the undigested grains out of the manure piles. Also we hunted around a chicken operation and the hogs would come in and eat the dead chickens that were thrown out.

  6. avatar WM says:

    Ralph,

    ++ People are going to have a good chance to get to know them because only two of the lower 48 states are still hog-free.++

    Which two states?

    • avatar Ralph Maughan says:

      WM,

      I judged from maps that it was Montana and Wyoming. I did find a page listing the number by state in 2010, 3 years ago. Then there were six feral hog free: Connecticut; Delaware; Montana; Rhode Island; Utah; Wyoming.

      Of course three of the six were small Eastern States.

  7. avatar thomas michael murphy says:

    another problem the moron hunters are creating due to their oversized egos and low intelligents of how to control wildlife.. unbelievable…

  8. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    They do not ‘degrade’ the landscape? Why are the feral horses such a threat, but nobody worries about the feral hogs? I guess it depends on where they landscape in question is. Sigh, just another of the idiosyncracies of human nature, I guess.

    • avatar Vicki Fossen says:

      Ida,

      There is extensive work being done right now to find ways to deal with an abundance of feral animals, including hogs, nutria, various carp, pythons, and many more.

      The biggest factor in all of it is making is human p.c. and safe. It costs obscene amounts of money to research, regulate and implement these measures. It is a slow process.

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        The BLM focuses exclusively on feral horses and has for years, in a not very PC or ‘transparent’ way either. Slaughterhouses are planed for the ‘overpopulation’ of horses. WM, what do the Yakima say about the feral hogs degrading the landscape? Actually, the feral pigs deserve a high five for outsmarting us.

        • avatar JB says:

          Ida:

          The BLM and other agencies ARE dealing with feral hogs–you just don’t hear about it. Hogs aren’t pretty (like horses), and more importantly, they lack a vocal group of advocates (again, contrast with feral horses). Now consider that the BLM is also specifically directed to manage for feral horses by federal legislation.

  9. avatar Ida Lupine says:

    They are interesting looking tho – like wild boars.

    As far as invasive species go, sometimes I think every animal came to the Americas across the Bering land bridge. It’s been a constant process. :)

    • avatar Vicki Fossen says:

      Ida,

      I am giggling. Yes, that durn blasted Straight! If only we could tell the Straight to leave it’s pythons and snakeheads, along with it’s grass carp and zebra muscles at home!

      If we are to maintain a wilderness for all the future Americans to enjoy, we have to start to see the economic value as second to the ethical value of well balanced and scientific conservation.

      I hope I live that long :)

      • avatar Ida Lupine says:

        :)

        Yes, me too. I do feel badly tho about how we’ve messed things up unknowingly, and will we continue to do that.

  10. avatar Vicki Fossen says:

    Well Ida, take heart. Life is a learning curve. Some of us peak, some fall off. lol!

    Truly, we are doing well given the change we have created upon this continent. We make our share of mistakes, but we also have some shining stars working toward The Greater Good.

    When science and politics find a common field to play upon, then it will be ‘game on’ for progress!

  11. Are there wild hog hugger groups yet?

  12. avatar mikepost says:

    This blog would do well to denigrate the wild hog even more than you do public land cattle grazing. Where cattle and hogs roam the same dirt, the damage by the hogs vastly surpasses that by cattle. Pigs will completely destroy a riparian area in a matter of a few weeks, even coming thru fences that effectively keep cattle out. They root up the bulbs of endangered plants, the raid the ground nests of many birds, attack reptiles (even poisoness ones) with impunity.

    One big difference between feral horses and feral pigs is that the horses pay attention to fences (when they exist) and the pigs just blast right thru. I would love to watch BLM try to herd wild boar.

    I have killed my share and they are smart, tough and don’t mind biting back…gun or no gun…and those 3 litters per year with 8-12 piglets each means the whole thing is way out of control.

    • avatar Vicki Fossen says:

      MikePost,
      You are correct! I can’t argue that logic. Let’s get rid of all 3!!!!!

    • avatar savebears says:

      With the current growth rate of the feral pig populations in this country, many don’t realize, they are one of the largest threats facing the environment. They will completely destroy and area and then move on and they are far more destructive than cattle or horses. that said, all three are threats that are not native to the area and need to be strongly controlled.

  13. avatar CodyCoyote says:

    Methinks that Wildlife Services urge to kill would be better aimed at wild hogs, not wild wolves and wild coyotes. Perhaps a reallocation of WS manpower from Wyoming Montana and Idaho to Texas and Florida would result in Wildlife Services going from a disservice to a vital public service, at no increased cost to the federal budget. They would appreciate the warmer clime and abundance of barbecue.

    Those natural born killers need to go where they are truely needed…

    • avatar Mark L says:

      Come on, CC, it’s bad enough already. Maybe we need to ‘grow our own’ WS people instead of importing from the north…just sayin’.

  14. avatar Snaildarter says:

    last year I was hiking in the Congaree Swamp NP in South Carolina. It’s full of hogs, big ones go about 350 pounds and are all black with serious tusk. Russian boars were introduced years ago for hunting and the current hybrid is quite formidable. I took a wrong trail and got lost and as late afternoon approached I noticed I had a quite a group of hogs shadowing me. They were following at a distance but if I turned around quickly I could count 12 or 15 before they disappeared. It was a bit unnerving. I’m curious how wolves would hunt them since hogs also live in packs and are just as intelligent as wolves. Too bad we have no big cats in GA or SC.

  15. avatar Barb Rupers says:

    Part of the reason for the spread of feral hogs is the desire of hunters to have them as a sport target. Michigan is involved with the problem.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/us/hunting-ranches-resist-efforts-to-curb-feral-swine.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

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