Feral hogs can out-think a man, can spread deadly swine flu, can double in population every year, are so aggressive they will attack a child or a grown man, can climb trees, are impossible to kill, cause more than $52 million in agricultural damages each year in Texas alone, are mean-spirited and predatory and can not be eradicated.
These are just a few claims being circulated around the breakfast table at hundreds of rural main street diners across Texas, and while many of the claims are more fiction than fact, there is a real and growing concern about the escalating feral hog problem in Texas that has farmers, ranchers and researchers scrambling to develop a strategy to help curtail the substantial damage these wild animals are causing on the Texas ag industry.
“It’s a very conservative estimate, but feral hog-related damages to crops, fields and fruit and nut orchards in Texas exceed $52 million a year in losses to the state’s ag industry, and this is based upon numbers of a 2004 study,” says Dr. Billy Higginbotham, Extension wildlife & fisheries specialist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service, a resident expert when it comes to feral hog populations in Texas.
“There is a great deal of myth and misinformation about these animals, but what we have confirmed as truth is frightening enough, and the problem is not going to get any better until we effectively educate property owners on how to deal with it,” he added.
Higginbotham is a featured topic speaker at the upcoming 71st Annual Meeting of Soil and Water Conservation Districts October 24-26 at the Hyatt Regency Hill Country Resort in San Antonio. The annual meeting draws some 600 conservation district officials from across the state.
“This is a problem that has been developing for a long time, so it shouldn’t be surprising it has become a major concern. The feral hog population in Texas has caused extensive damage to peanut, milo and corn crops, is responsible for damages caused by rooting out levees in rice country, has had a negative impact on peach and pecan orchards and has the potential of spreading disease among domestic hogs,” Higginbotham explained.
While the No. 1 problem with the wild hog population is pasture damage, Higginbotham says they also have caused false-positive testing for brucellosis in beef cattle, and swine brucellosis and pseudorabies are also a concern. Recently while testing feral hogs for brucellosis, researchers at Texas Tech documented the presence of tularemia in a large number of hogs tested. Tularemia can be transmitted to other animals and humans. Pseudorabies can be transmitted to other animals, and swine brucellosis can be contracted by humans.
Concerning the truth and myth of wild pigs in Texas, Higginbotham says it’s true that these animals are intelligent. He says improper baiting and trapping is one of the chief concerns because the hogs, like rats, learn how to spring or avoid traps.
As for population and propagation levels, he says estimates indicate 1.5 million feral hogs in Texas and that, contrary to common belief, they can’t double in population levels every year. However, feral hogs are the most prolific large mammal on the face of the earth. He says sows drop approximately 1.5 litters per year with five to six offspring to each litter. According to the latest data, he says, the population base grows an alarming rate each year of about 20 percent. A recent study indicates feral hog populations in Texas number about 1.5 million. An estimated 5 to 6 million wild hogs are believed to populate the 48 lower states.
Eradication an impossibility
“Controlling feral hogs in Texas is going to take much more than just hunting them,” Higginbotham said. “Hunting represents a very small control effort. The feral hog problem has grown to a crisis level and the only way to effectively control it is through a process of property owners taking an active role in management efforts.”
Snaring/trapping and aerial and ground gunning remain the best methods of controlling feral hog populations, but experts warn understanding how to properly use traps and snares is critical.
“They learn to avoid danger very quickly and half-hearted attempts to control them just make them less susceptible to future control efforts, and controlling the population of feral pigs is our only hope, for the problem is so great there is no hope of eradication” Higginbotham warns.
- Damage from feral hogs in Texas tops $52 million.
- They are known to be territorial.
- Can damage peach and pecan trees.
- Increase in numbers each year by as much as 20 percent.
- Are intelligent, crafty animals.
- Will aggressively attack humans (most attacks are coincidental).
- Spread swine flu.
- Are near impossible to kill.
- Double in population every year.