Virginia’s beautiful landscape may be home to some animals you aren’t aware of. For example, manatees and humpback whales sometimes exist along the shores of Virginia, and a shrew native to the Dismal Swamp finds one of its only homes in the state. Did you know wild boars also roam Virginia? For residents, these animals can be destructive pests, so it’s important to know where they live and what risks their presence carries.
First, you might want to know a little bit more about these wild hogs. We have a great wild boar information page on their lives and behaviors you can read before getting more information on how they impact the lands and residents of Virginia! We’ll go over wild boars in this article a little bit, as well!
What is a Wild Boar?
A wild boar (Sus scrofa) is a species of wild pig that is native to Africa, Asia, and Europe. There are many varieties and subspecies of wild boar, and they live in several different kinds of environments on nearly every continent. In the United States, these boars are invasive and their presence can deeply impact and damage their habitats.
Wild boars are medium-sized pigs, with males growing to a maximum of 220 pounds and females up to 180 pounds. They are short and stocky with powerful shoulders and a large head. Their hair is scruffy and double-coated, and they have incredibly poor eyesight. Their overall population is unknown but suspected to be large.
Wild Boars in Virginia
Wild boars inhabit 20 of the 95 counties in Virginia, including Fauquier and Culpeper counties. Virginia’s state legislature classifies wild boars quite loosely. The legislature states: “Feral hog (Sus scrofa; any swine that are wild or for which no proof of ownership can be made)”. The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources says coat color and origin do not matter – any loose group of domestic pigs can become feral within only a few generations. Loose boars are a detriment to their habitat and destroy local vegetation. They put several endangered plant and animal varieties at risk, as well, and they have no natural predators in Virginia. That means that the only animal that can control their populations is the very animal that introduced them – humans.
Wild boar populations can triple in size in less than two years, and this is a contributing factor to the danger they pose to their environments. Wild hogs are not migratory, so every unconnected population in Virginia is a result of human error. These populations are greatly a result of escaped and loose domestic pigs.
Virginia does not have a large population of feral hogs – an estimated 3,000 of them roam the state. This is in contrast to significantly higher numbers, like the 3 million that wander Texas and the 1.5 million in Oklahoma. 40 states report wild boar populations, and Virginia is not anywhere near the top of the population list. That means you aren’t incredibly likely to encounter them in Virginia, but you should watch county local advisories for their presence.
Are Wild Boars Dangerous?
Wild boars carry a lot of risk to human and plant populations, so they are dangerous. Let’s go over some of the potential and actual risks of wild boar populations.
Starting with plants and agriculture, these pigs pose a great risk. Populations of wild boars in forests consume endangered plants and overharvest others. The United States Department of Agriculture shares that the pigs halt the regeneration of forests by consuming undergrowth and slowing the growth of older trees and plants. In agriculture, they trample and consume a variety of crops including wheat, peanuts, and oats.
Wild boars also pose a health risk. In an agricultural sense, they spread diseases to domestic livestock. Since they’re omnivores, food scarcity drives them to hunt a variety of animals. This hunting is indiscriminate and focuses on easy prey. This means that young domestic livestock are in danger around feral hogs. Sheep, cows, and domestic pigs experience a higher risk of illness when exposed to wild boars. Additionally, meat from these animals is at risk of contamination by illness, parasites, and bacteria. This carries health concerns for meat-eating populations.
Consumption of contaminated flesh leads to a variety of problems. The wild pig populations carry up to 30 diseases, along with nearly 40 types of parasites. Many of these can be fatal to domestic pets, such as dogs and cats, and you shouldn’t let your pets near the carcasses of these beasts. Foodborne risks for humans include transmission of E. coli, trichinosis, and toxoplasmosis.
Hogs are not naturally aggressive or predatory toward humans, however, they may still attack. As wild hog populations acclimate to more urban environments, this risk rises. Even if they do not attack people or children, they are very likely to charge small domestic animals.
Are There Benefits to Wild Boars?
In some cases, wild boars can have a positive impact on the environment. Studies suggest that some ecosystems benefit from wild boar populations by actually improving the biodiversity of the area. This, by no means, should encourage you to release domestic pigs into the wild. The firm repercussions of the action deeply outweigh any noted or potential benefits. For perspective, consider controlled burns versus wildfires. A carefully-controlled burn can deeply benefit a region, but a wildfire bears deep and lasting consequences. Let experts study and control populations of feral hogs, and avoid any action that leads to or encourages their presence or population growth.
Control of Population
Due to the quickly-growing nature of the hogs, local wildlife agencies have to implement control measures to prevent population growth. The Virginia DWR estimates that 70 percent of every herd requires removal every year to stabilize growth. For perspective on this number, consider that a herd of 100 would need 70 pigs removed.
Wildlife conservationists and conservation officers have teamed up with the DWR to create a wild hog committee dedicated to the observation and control of feral hogs. They ask that you report any wild boar sightings to them via the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline. This helps them establish roaming regions and track populations.
There are other things you can do to help! Good fencing around your property helps prevent them from getting near you or your pets and livestock. The USDA does not recommend harassing the boars to get them to go away, as they will simply move and become more aggressive and wary in future encounters. They advise that trappers euthanize captured pigs. Relocating the hogs can be dangerous and it leads to population growth in other areas.
You can hunt and kill wild boars, but follow local and national advisories while doing so. For example, killing hogs in large herds is often not effective. This is due to the herd politics of any given group of pigs. Killing a few members of a large herd served to destabilize herd politics, which leads to a wider range of population spread and a splitting of groups. It is better to hunt small groups or singular boars to prevent this.
Mostly, reporting the presence of wild boars to your local agency is the most effective. Wild boar management teams have more resources than residents and are more effective at herd control.
What To Do If You Encounter a Wild Boar
As you can see, wild boars aren’t the most ideal animal to run into in the wild. So what should you do if it happens?
Like all wildlife, it is best to keep a safe distance. It is good to remember that damages go both ways, meaning that the impact we have on wildlife is as great or greater than the impact it has on us. Especially for animals that became wild or feral, we bear a responsibility to do our best and give them room. A wild boar attack can be fatal, so it’s imperative to attempt to do the right thing if you come across a feral hog. A good rule of thumb is to avoid wild boar encounters at all costs. Do not feed wild boars or corner them.
If you encounter a wild boar, stay calm and create distance. Wild boars mostly attack when they feel cornered or threatened, and also when their young are in the area. Since these hogs cannot climb, it is best to seek elevation. Scramble up rocks or climb a tree if possible and wait for the boar to leave.
In the case of an attack, it is imperative to remain standing. You can try to side-step attacks from the sharp tusks in order to remain unharmed and on your feet. Wild boars deal much more damage if they can get you to the ground. If necessary, employ any tools or weapons at your disposal to defend yourself. Be aware that this is strictly for self-defense. You should not seek to fight a wild boar to the death or attack once it backs away. Tools and weapons such as sticks, knives, and guns are most effective for preventing extended damage in a close encounter and gaining the opportunity to get away from the boars.
If a boar attack results in injury, go to the hospital immediately to have your wounds treated even if they’re small. If a boar attack results in boar death, report it to a local agency for tips on the safe removal of the boar. In any case, be sure to report the sighting and attack to local authorities.
Wild Boar Responsibility
Hog farmers and local pig owners bear much responsibility for wild boar populations. It is important to ensure that your pigs remain inside of enclosures. Further, you should never release pigs into the wild. If a pig or set of pigs is too much to handle, seek local resources for rehoming or euthanasia. It may seem inhumane to kill healthy pigs, but releasing them into the wild invites destruction greater than the control of the population. In many cases, you will fairly easily find a new home for your hogs.
Responsibility also includes recognizing personal limitations. As with any other sort of pet or domestic animal, you should be sure that you are capable of giving a pig what it needs to survive and thrive. Our relationship with domestic animals deeply depends on our understanding and knowledge of them and our ability to care for them is imperative to the health of ourselves and our environments. If you’re unsure of something when thinking of adopting, do your research and contact local experts. If you’re unsure of something while owning animals, the same guideline applies. There is a plethora of information and resources that can help you in your decisions while adopting and owning animals.
In summation, yes, wild boars are dangerous and you can encounter them in Virginia. The best thing you can do is remain informed and respectful of wildlife, whether native or invasive and take the proper measures to protect the safety of yourself and your environment.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/taviphoto
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