Humans v. Wild Pigs

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The conquistadors would leave a few pigs on a lush, warm Caribbean island, and come back a year later to find dozens and dozens of animals; pork dinner for months. Proliferation gone wild. Wild pig hunters joke that the pigs are born pregnant and they certainly multiply at an astounding rate. I had read that there were six million wild pigs but in a recent well-researched article, I have learned the number is up to eight million and no solution exists. link

Several years ago the Texas legislature passed a law making it legal to shoot wild pigs from helicopters. The photo above shows the shadow of the helicopter in pursuit of wild pigs. The problem is that, given the high birth rate, approximately 70 percent of the two million wild hogs in Texas would have to be removed annually just to keep the population of pigs at it current number.

There are, nationwide, about one hundred helicopter services who offer services to landowners, charging about $600 an hour to provide a platform for shooting wild pigs. Even at this price, wildlife agents in Texas have found aerial shooting to be the most cost- effective method of pig control. Texas agents kill 25,000 pigs a year and half of them are shot at from the sky. Private aerial hunters kill between 25 to 70 pigs during a daily run. Since there are up to two million wild pigs in Texas; helicopters would have to fill our skies to solve the problem. It’s math. It works out in favor of the pigs.

Trapping has been used successfully, particularly in areas with dense forests. A family unit of wild pigs is called a sounder and trapping entire sounder families of about 25 pigs is the goal. The problem is the pigs’ intelligence. They learn to avoid traps. If one pig from a sounder escapes, no other pig will ever go near that trap again. New traps are monitored electronically and programed to close only when every member of the sounder is in the trap. The other issue with trapping is that a pig or pigs confined in a trap are going to be extremely dangerous.  A study done in South Carolina found that catching and harvesting wild hogs in traps required about twenty-nine man-hours per hog.

Hunting wild pigs with dogs is effective and often works best if only a few – most often the smartest pigs are left in an area. Hunters use three kinds of dogs: dogs who trail and have good noses to track the hog; dogs that bay when the pig is found; and “catch dogs” that hold the pig by the ear or nose while the hunters come in for the kill. These hunters travel with surgical stapling guns, suture kits, and blood-stop powder and very valuable dogs are outfitted with vests made of ballistic-strength fiber. link

Hunters with dogs can kill at a very modest rate; up to seven in a night using night vision goggles. This is not a solution for eight million pigs; although scientists in Louisiana are working on a night-vision pig-killing drone.

What happens to the dead hogs? There is lively discussion in books, magazines and on the internet of wasting the hunted pigs when people are hungry. And feral pigs are food. One hip Austin restaurant sells feral-hog chorizo and includes hog meat on the restaurant menu when it is available. The pigs that are retailed are trapped and specially processed; the skull of a feral hog is so dense, it cannot be killed with a bolt gun. Around half a million a year are USDA inspected and sold here and abroad.

Which leads to the issue of poisoning the wild pigs. Warfarin is presently the poison of choice; it is laced with bitter sodium nitrate to prevent other animals from eating it. Warfarin is also put into a big Pez dispenser device that only hogs are smart enough to access.

Except. “If Kaput or any Warfarin hog bait is allowed, I cannot guarantee the meat I sell doesn’t have the drug in it,” said Will Herring, a hog hunter in Hubbard, Tex., near Waco, who last year founded Wild Boar Meats.

Except. A video of a black bear ripping into the Pez device caused Louisiana officials to halt plans to follow Texas’ lead in the proposed use of Warfarin.

Except. Pigs are messy and litter the Warfarin laced bait around, where other wildlife and pets can get it.

Except. Warfarin, although widely prescribed for blood clots and strokes, is a leading cause of adverse drug reactions in humans.

Except. Warfarin is used to kill rats and rats have developed a tolerance for the poison. Pharmacologists believe this would be the result if it is used to kill pigs.

Unintended consequences all around us.

 Illustration by Ralph Steadman in Animal Farm by George Orwell
Illustration by Ralph Steadman in Animal Farm by George Orwell

…out from the door of the farmhouse came a long file of pigs, all walking on their hind legs…out came Napoleon himself, majestically upright, casting haughty glances from side to side, and with his dogs gambolling round him.He carried a whip in his trotter.  Animal Farm, George Orwell

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