Domestic pigs are usually viewed as pink, cute, and snorty, which are all true things. When those same pigs escape and turn feral, however, things get a lot more serious. Feral pigs (sometimes hogs, feral hogs, or razorbacks) are not just a nuisance; they are extremely dangerous and cause billions of dollars worth of damage each year. Today, we are going to take a closer look at these animals and tally up exactly how much damage they cause each year. Let’s get started.
Domestic Pigs in North America
Domestic pigs were introduced to the Americas during the 16th century, first by Christopher Columbus in the West Indies during his second voyage. Hernando de Soto is also known to have introduced them in Florida in 1539. Since then, populations of feral pigs have extended to almost every state and have caused serious damage to all sorts of agriculture and infrastructure.
“Feral pigs can multiply faster than any other large mammal; females begin breeding at about 8 months and can produce 2 litters of 4–12 piglets every 12–15 months.”USDA
The incredible number of pigs (around 6-9 million) causes problems at all sorts of levels. These pigs cause billions of dollars in property and agricultural damage every year in the United States, primarily due to how they forage. Feral pigs forage by rooting for their food under the ground with their snouts and tusks, which can cause severe ecological damage to native wildlife and root systems that are disrupted by the foraging. Aside from crop and environmental damage, they are potential hosts for at least 34 pathogens that can be transmitted to livestock, wildlife, and humans.
How Much Damage Do Feral Hogs Cause?
The current estimate for the total amount of damage caused by feral hogs is around $2.5 billion dollars. Each year, there is over $100 million spent to try and reduce the number, but the damages are still exceedingly high and only seem to be growing.
For example, one farmer in Georgia, Adam McLendon, has around 8,000 acres of farmland that is mostly dedicated to peanuts, corn, and cotton. Every year for the past 15 years, McLendon has tallied at least $100,000 in costs associated with feral pigs exclusively on his own property. When pigs find a field of crops, they will dig out large portions into depressions called “ruts” that then need to be filled and smoother over before more crops can be planted again.
The problem is so large that there are government programs dedicated to dealing with it. The APHIS National Feral Swine Damage Management Program, for example, was created in 2014 to try and reduce damages. The program hopes to reduce the number and reach of the populations while at the same time monitoring them across the country.
Is It Legal to Hunt Feral Pigs?
There are different rules that dictate how to hunt feral pigs, but generally speaking, it’s left up to the states. North Carolina, for instance, explains, “There is no closed season for taking feral swine on private lands, and they may be taken any time during the day or night. Hunters may use artificial lights and electronic calls. There are no bag limit restrictions on feral swine”, essentially saying that if they are on your property, you can do whatever you need to do (wink, wink).
The state with the most feral pigs is, without a doubt, Texas. The sheer land area and suitable habitat make it the perfect breeding ground for feral swine, and the state has over 3 million of them at any given moment. After Texas, the next states are Oklahoma, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, and New Mexico.
Although feral pigs are dangerous and carry diseases, hunters will often use them as a meat source, so the killing serves a dual purpose. When the meat is cooked, dangerous pathogens and viruses are killed. Still, it isn’t recorded by the CDC as there are 24 diseases that can occur from consuming undercooked wild pigs. Killing and processing the pigs safely is extremely important to reduce the possibility of diseases.
Are Feral Pigs Dangerous?
When it comes to direct contact with feral pigs, they can be extremely dangerous. After generations of being feral, the pigs develop sharp tusks and unpredictable behavior, especially around humans. In fact, they are known to be actively aggressive towards humans and pets, even when they aren’t necessarily cornered. Additionally, vehicle strikes can cause damage to cars and the people inside them, while the pathogens that the pigs carry can be spread through water or crops. Incredibly, there have been over 100 fatal feral pig attacks on humans in the United States since documentation began in 1825.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/JohnCarnemolla
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