Pig Out

I saw the wild pig on the highway only a mile or so from my home; killed by a car. Its presence here in Hill Country was unwelcome news. Perhaps not entirely unexpected. Wild pigs, also called razorbacks, Old World swine, wild boars, feral hogs are cutting a path of destruction through 39 American states and four Canadian provinces. There are as many as six million of them currently and they are expanding their territory. As an example of unintended consequences, the ‘Wild Pigs v. Humans’ story can’t be beat.

I have always thought Columbus had quite enough to answer for; but, it turns out he was the first person to bring pigs to America where they went wild–feral. Settlers also brought pigs to the new country. It’s hard to fence a pig. They can dig under, jump over or just power through most fencing so these domestics often ran free and they bred with the feral pigs. Later hunters imported Eurasian pigs for sport; the feral pigs bred with them, too.

This genetic soup resulted in a formidable animal. A tough, smart animal. Their hearing is excellent and they can smell odors for seven miles cross country or 25 feet underground. They can sprint up to 30 miles an hour and swim two miles of open ocean. The males develop muscles in the front of their bodies that thicken like armor and are almost impermeable. Their noses have a special bone, the nasal sesamoid bone, which is connected to the skull only by cartilage and which provides extra rooting support. Some have tusks but these are often lost in fights between males.

Wild pigs invade national and state parks where they devastate grasses and trees and frighten tourists. Their destruction leaves wildlife bereft of food sources; and, they eat foxes, opossums, deer and other wildlife. The wild pigs contributed to the near-extinction of  foxes on Santa Cruz Island off the coast of California.

They love farms as well, they will uproot, then feed on fields of sorghum, rice, wheat, soybeans, melons, fruit, nuts, grass and hay. The wild pigs eat food put out for livestock and then eat the livestock young–calves, lambs and kid goats.

Cities and suburbs are not neglected by the wild pigs. They wreck outdoor furniture and root up and eat lawns and gardens. They love golf courses and athletic fields. Pets such as dogs and cats are killed, maimed and sometimes eaten. Wild pigs eat anything and everything.

This miracle of breeding in the wild has left us to cope with an animal that remains vigorous although often host to up to 32 parasite species, scabies, lice ticks, liver flukes, lungworms, tapeworms, the pseudorabies virus and swine brucellosis. When the nuclear plant at Chernobyl, Ukraine exploded, Belarus, Russia and Sweden were irradiated. A quarter of a million wild pigs live in Sweden; and in some parts of Sweden wild pigs have been found to have high levels of radioactivity– but the pigs seem fine and continue to tear up the countryside. link

The subject of wild pigs brings on a certain denial of reality in humans. For example, hunters. I have great respect and affection for my hunter friends. And serious hunters love wild pigs. Wealthy hunters imported Eurasian hogs for sport in the 1890’s and again in the 1930’s. “You can fool deer 50 percent of the time, but hogs’ll win 90 percent of the time.” link. The fun of the chase on one hand; destruction on the other.

And scientists. I have great respect and love for my scientist friends. But wildlife biologists insist on on classifying and studying wild pigs as a non-native species. After 600 years of breeding and interbreeding.  Designating them as foreigners just might be holding up problem solving and research funding.

A final example: animal lovers and activists. I love and respect them. Wild pigs are voracious consumers of many protected species, sea turtles red-cheeked salamanders, short-tailed shrews, red-back voles and other precious threatened creatures. But PETA is now recommending taking wild pigs to refuges and containing them in ‘inexpensive’ fencing. First, no fencing is inexpensive and second, the capture and transport of 6 million wild pigs would be a nightmare. This verges on fantasy given, well–the nature of the beast.

The old joke is that there are two kinds of people: those that have wild pigs and those that will have wild pigs. My friends and I shook our heads and enjoyed our wine the day the wild pig was seen on the highway. Perhaps it was just an anomaly. They might not come here. We embraced the escape from reality just like all of our human friends.

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