US faces ticking ‘feral swine bomb’ as millions of wild pigs run rampant across country

The wild boars cause $2.5bn in damages annually 

Graig Graziosi
Monday 21 September 2020 17:58 BST
Escaped pigs hard to catch

A population explosion among wild boars in the US has led experts to warn that a "feral swine bomb," if left unchecked, could wreak havoc on large swaths of the country.  

Undark Magazine reported on the explosion of the pig population, which has caused an estimated $2.5bn worth of damages every year.  

Feral hogs trample and tear-up crops, attack livestock, and can destroy sensitive habitats. The pigs also act as disease carriers. They can host more than 30 viral and bacterial diseases as well as scores of parasites.  

There are approximately 9 million feral hogs in the US, and their numbers are multiplying quickly.  

Thirty years ago, only 17 states had feral hog populations. Today, there are at least 39 states dealing with the animals' destructive tendencies.  

Dale Nolte, manager of the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program at the US Department of Agriculture, told Undark Magazine that their exponential population growth has experts concerned.  

"They multiply so rapidly. To go from a thousand to two thousand, it's not a big deal. But if you've got a million, it doesn't take long to get to 4 [million], then 8 million," he said.  

In some parts of the country, like Florida, Georgia and California, the feral hog population has grown wildly out of control. Both California and Texas have encouraged the recreational hunting of the pigs, but their attempts to cull the population backfired; in response to the hunting, the pigs simply scattered throughout the state, increasing the scope of the problem.  

Data suggests that in Colorado, for example, hunting pigs will actually increase their travelling distance by up to 100 miles.  

Montana outright banned the hunting of wild boars after a 2013 incident in which Texas man attempted to bring the beasts into the state to hunt them commercially. Two years later, the state passed legislation banning hunting of feral pigs and prohibiting their transportation or ownership in the state. Those found breaking the feral swine laws could be hit with up to $10,000 fines.  

The pigs are especially dangerous because of their genetics.  

The wild boars are the offspring of domestic big breeds and the European wild boar.  

As a result of the mix, the pigs inherit  the intelligence, heightened sense of smell and rugged survivability from the hogs, and their exceptional fertility - thanks to years of husbandry - from the pigs.  

When pigs escape their enclosures and breed in the wild - even with other domestic pigs - their offspring can eventually revert to a feral phenotype after just a few generations - less than 20 years.  

"The problem with the hybrids is you get all of the massive benefits of all of that genetics," researchers said.  

A few states have started awareness campaigns meant to urge the public to report the pigs so authorities can destroy them.  

Washington, Oregon and Montana have a "Squeal on Pigs" information campaign that urges residents to call a 24-hour phone hotline to report pig sightings.  

Though Montana has received praise from experts for its use of legislation and public information to help contain the flood of pigs, there is fear that too little is being done to get the creatures under control.  

Ryan Brook, a biologist with the University of Saskatchewan that researches animals, said the efforts are just a small part of what is needed to truly contain the pigs.

"The efforts to deal with them are about 1 per cent of what's currently needed," he said.  

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