Wild pigs in US are 'out of control'
Jamison Stone, 11, with a wild pig he killed in Alabama, that measured 9ft 4 from snout to tail
By Catherine Elsworth in Los Angeles 12:00PM GMT 22 Nov 2007 Comment
They have been branded an "ecological train wreck", threatening wildlife and plant habitats across the US while causing millions of dollargermanys worth of damage to farmland and property.
Federal strike teams armed with machine guns stage aerial assaults while landowners in badly affected areas turn to a growing band of private trappers and hunters.
According to government estimates, there are now more than 4m wild pigs in over 40 states across the US. Worst affected is Texas, which has over 2m followed by California, Florida and Hawaii.
The hogs, as they are known, breed rapidly, having up to three litters a year each with nine to 10 young. Fully grown they are huge - over 20 stone - and insatiable, rapidly devouring acres of crops such as corn, wheat and sweet potatoes. They compete with wildlife for food, destroy enclosures around livestock, eat animal feed, even prey on their young.
And they are smart, swiftly catching on to any attempt to trap them and able to rapidly identify food sources in a multitude of ecosystems.
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Government officials estimate the hogs cause as much as ?4bn worth of damage each year with nearly half occurring in Texas. As well as rooting up <NOBR>golf courses</NOBR> and front gardens the hogs threaten endangered species such as sea turtles in coastal areas, rare plant life inland and cause serious erosion to steam and river banks.
"It's a huge problem," said Kevin Ryer, whose website Texasboars is visited by 100,000 hunters and trappers a month seeking and swapping tips. "Most metropolitan areas have them - some smaller cities even have feral hogs running around downtown. Basically, they have taken over the state."
A lack of natural predators means "the survival rate of a litter of feral pigs is about 100 per cent," said Mr Ryer, who manufactures hunting products. "Everyone I know has them. There's a saying that if you don't have them now, just wait, you're going to, because that's how it's going."
"I use the term ecological train wreck," said Mike Bodenchuk, the US Department. of Agriculture official in charge of Texas wildlife issues. "Pigs are incredibly adaptable and they are having an impact on a host of different ecosystems.
"On the beaches, for example, they are eating the eggs of endangered sea turtles. In far western Texas where we have desert landscapes, they are rooting up plants that may not be replaced in our lifetime.
"There isn't any part of the ecosystem they don't impact from watersheds, soils, native wildlife and domestic livestock to ground nesting birds. Just about everything that can be impacted by feral hogs is impacted."
Experts say if the pig population is not contained, the destruction to crops, wildlife and property could reach catastrophic proportions. There is also concern about their ability to spread disease to not only livestock and pets but humans. Feral pigs were recently linked to an outbreak of E coli in Californian spinach that made hundreds sick and killed three.
In Texas, traps, baiting and hunting with guns and sometimes dogs are the main methods used to control the pigs. Many trappers earn thousands of dollars catching and selling the animals on to meat buyers who supply upmarket <NOBR>restaurants</NOBR> with wild boar.
Private operators such as Joe Paddock, of East Texas, who dubs himself The Dehoganator, rent out their services to landowners, donning camouflage, <NOBR>night vision goggles</NOBR> and an assault rifle to target the hogs.
To aficionados, hunting feral pig is about as enjoyable and challenging as a blood sport can be, given the size and wily nature of their prey.
"The hog is the poor man's grizzly," Tommy Stroud, one of Paddock's riflemen, told the Los Angeles Times. "If you shoot at a hog, you'd better shoot straight, because if you don't kill it, he might try and kill you."
But the popularity of the sport is one of the reasons behind the population explosion, said Mr Bodenchuk, with hunters transporting the animals from one area to another and releasing them.
"There is a great dividing line between those who want to get rid of them and those who are making money off them who want to keep them around."
The overall opinion, however, is that the hogs are bad news and despite the efforts of hunters, state and federal officials, they are still nowhere near under control. Even the market in wild boar meat cannot help much, said Mr Bodenchuk.
"It's nothing that's going to cap the population," he said. "You can't eat your way out of this problem."
The first pigs were brought from Europe to the US in 1539 by the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto. In the late 19th century, wild pigs from Germany were released on a New Hampshire hunting range. From 1910 to the 1930s, Russian wild boars were released in North Carolina, California and Texas. They often bred with domesticated pigs and the population soared.
Officials in Missouri, which has a special task force, and Kansas, where all unauthorised movement of swine is banned, still believe they can eradicate wild pigs. But in Texas, it is too late.
"The idea that we can eradicate hogs is probably off the table now," said Mr Bodenchuk. "There's just not enough money or public will." Instead, officials were trying to be as smart as the pigs when it comes to targeting resources.
"If you only had one solution they'd outsmart you every time," he said. He is urging an increase in control and the variety of methods used. "If we don't, hogs will just continue to spread and increase in number."
I have also read in other articles a handful of investors brought the Russian Boars over as hunting game but the State refused to grant enough ''tags'' to control the problem or make the enterprise viable so the investors just walked away-pretending to be ignorant of the fact that a Russian Boar can cross breed with ALL pigs-the wild hog population has grown 3,000% in the last decade-a small herd (4-5) hogs -can eat an acre of corn a night.