AUSTIN (KXAN) — There’s a ticking time bomb when it comes to wild hogs — and the billions in damage they cause.
There are about nine million feral hogs in the U.S. And those numbers are ballooning and increasing the estimated $2.5 billion in damage they already cost in the U.S. each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.
That’s according to Dale Nolte, manager of the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program at the Department of Agriculture, who tells The Atlantic that the increasing numbers of feral hogs in the U.S. is sometimes referred to as a “ferral swine bomb.”
He says because they can reproduce so quickly, it’s very difficult to control the problem.
“To go from a thousand to two thousand, it’s not a big deal,” Nolte told The Atlantic. “But if you’ve got a million, it doesn’t take long to get to four [million], then eight million.”
Nolte says some feral hogs — domestic breeds and European wild boar — have cross-bred and become “what we’d call super-pigs.”
What does a “super-pig” look like?
According to Nolte, they’re highly intelligent, have very good senses of smell and have physical attributes, like heavy fur, which increase their ability to survive in the wild. This is what they inherit from boars.
Equally problematic is the qualities they get from domestic pigs, which have been bred to be fertile at all times and to have large litters, more than 10 piglets in each litter, on average.
Feral hogs are also able to grow very big — about 75 to 250 pounds on average, the Department of Agriculture says. But they can be twice that size and reach up to three feet in height.
“The problem with the hybrids is you get all of the massive benefits of all of that genetics,” says biologist Ryan Brook, of the University of Saskatchewan.
Hogs, according to Texas Parks and Wildlife, have four tusks that are constantly growing (two on top, two on bottom). They tend to be dark brown or black once they mature.
They can run up to 30 miles an hour.
The Department of Agriculture explains the myriad ways feral hogs cause damage, saying it “affects everyone.”
A few of the areas affected by the invasive species are:
- Damage to crops when they eat or destroy field crops — sugar cane, corn, wheat, oats, rice and peanuts are frequent targets
- Transmitting pathogens to healthy adult livestock and killing the young and vulnerable ones
- Eating fruit, berries grapes and nuts from orchards and destroying the saplings when they rub plants with their bodies to get parasites off their skin
People and pets
- Feral swine are known to carry at least 30 viral and bacterial diseases and nearly 40 parasites — all transmittable to to humans and pets
- Organisms and pathogens that can be transmitted include swine flu, salmonella, hepatitis and pathogenic E. coli
- Physical attacks — they’re known to have been aggressive toward farmers, hikers and picnickers. The department says aggression is increased when humans are associated with food because of handouts or improper waste disposal
FIND A FULL LIST OF FERAL SWINE DAMAGE RISKS HERE
Wild hogs in Texas
There are over 1.5 million feral hogs in Texas, Texas Parks and Wildlife estimates — with the highest populations occurring in east, south and central Texas.
Texas spends about $4 million a year trying to control hog populations.
“Pig populations are completely out of control,” Brook told The Atlantic, referring to the U.S. as a whole. “The efforts to deal with them are about 1 percent of what’s currently needed.”
Even in areas where hog populations are sparse, however, TPW says populations are starting to increase.
Last fall, Great Hills Country Club in Austin reported that increased hog activity on its golf course resulted in large and small chunks of grass being uprooted in various course locations.
More concerning, in November 2019, a 59-year-old woman in southeast Texas was attacked and killed by feral hogs.
The woman was found in a front yard with a severe head wound and other injuries consistent with animal bites — the coroner said she bled to death after the attack.
While feral hogs can be hunted year-round in Texas, licensed hunters must have permission from landowners to do it. Feral hogs, along with coyotes and mountain lions are considered “non-protected” species.
Texas Parks and Wildlife says early Spanish explorers likely introduced hogs to Texas over 300 years ago, providing a crucial source of cured meat and lard.