Campbell Vaughn: Feral hogs are invading our space, literally

Campbell Vaughn: Feral hogs are invading our space, literally

Author: Campbell Vaughn Columnist

Published: May 2, 2019 at 7:00 PM

The feral hog in the United States is an invasive and destructive species that has reached epidemic proportions. During the early part of the last century, sportsmen imported Russian boars into the United States as a species for hunting. These Eurasian wild boars have bred with escaped domestic swine to build a formidable population.

Between 1989 and 2019, feral pig distribution in the U.S. has increased from 19 states with wild pig populations to wild pigs currently being reported in 45 states. The United States total population of feral swine is estimated at well over 6 million hogs. These wild pigs know no boundaries, have very few natural enemies, adapt to most habitats and breed prolifically.

Feral swine are destructive animals. Pigs naturally like to root and wallow which are both damaging to the land. Rooting is where the pig uses its course nose with the help of a very strong neck to dig through the landscape looking for food. Pigs use their sharp hooves for digging as well. This rooting is known to completely destroy pastures, entire row crop fields, golf courses, residential landscapes and dirt roadways.

Wallowing is a method the pigs use where they root with their nose and dig in a depression that is saturated in water to lie down and cover themselves in mud to stay cool. These areas hold water and that can heavily increase mosquito populations and can make navigating personal and agricultural vehicles difficult. These feral swine habits also destabilize the land, leading to major erosion issues.

Pigs are also omnivores with very little they will not consume. With the potential to reach 400 to 500 pounds, they have a voracious appetite. The calories they consume to maintain their constantly growing body mass leads to a lot of damage of field crops and regular predatory feeding. These meals include acres of corn, soybeans, specialty vegetable crops, eggs of native animals, young wild animals they can catch such as turkey pullets, and livestock animals like lambs and beef cattle calves. They can also destroy many different plants in delicate ecosystems. The damage these invasive animals cause in the U.S. is estimated at $1.5 billion annually.

Feral swine also are a host for 30 different diseases and 37 types of parasites. These diseases can infect domestic animals and humans.

Feral swine are excellent at reproducing. Pigs can be sexually mature as early as 3 to 4 months old. Gestation is 115 days and females can enter estrus every 18-24 days until they are successfully bred. Litter size averages 4-6 piglets but can be as large as 14. That means one mother will have at least two litters a year. And her female offspring has the potential to breed at least once in their first year.

When wild hogs roam, they do so at will and over vast terrain. With a penchant for swampy land along rivers and streams, their waste enters the waters we use for drinking in alarming quantities.

In a study done in Louisiana, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries used DNA fingerprinting to link positive matches of feral swine to widespread pathogens in 40 different water testing sites. E. coli and salmonellosis were found to positively match wild pigs in high numbers at 22 of the 40 sites. And an alarming statement in the finding stated that in all sites sampled, the water was potentially unsafe for contact by humans or wildlife.

The wild pig needs to be eradicated.

Hunting and trapping is doing very little to control the feral hog population. The statistic that is the most staggering is that to just maintain current levels of the wild pig population, you would have to harvest 70 percent of the population every year.

Read that prior sentence one more time.

This invasion is an epidemic and is going to take some major innovative efforts to control this problem now and in the future.

Reach Campbell Vaughn, the UGA Agriculture and Natural Resource agent for Richmond County, by e-mailing augusta@uga.edu.

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© 2019 The Augusta Chronicle

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