Don't shoot, report

Written by Mary Cheney on .

While it may seem counterintuitive, shooting and hunting feral hogs actually increases feral hog numbers and distribution because of illegal releases of more animals into the wild for future hunting opportunities. It also scatters the hogs and can interfere with trapping efforts, according to Alan Leary, the MDC state feral hog coordinator.

“Getting rid of these destructive, invasive pests requires a well-planned strategy, a lot of patience, and a little luck,” Leary said.

MDC and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service personnel can help landowners implement effective trapping programs, but they can only do so if feral hog sightings or identification of their signs, like damage to crops or land, is reported promptly.

Missouri’s population includes Russian and European boars as well as several varieties of domestic pig. They come in an array of colors and patterns, and usually range in size from 100 to 200 pounds, though they can grow significantly larger. The animals reach sexual maturity at a young age, with females able to reproduce at six months of age, and they can have two litters of four to eight piglets every 12 to 18 months.

Feral hogs may be the most prolific large mammal on earth, according to Leary. Their annual population growth rate can reach 166 percent if no removal efforts are made. Adult hogs have few predators and are very hardy, so natural mortality rates are low. The end result: populations can sustain up to a 70 percent reduction annually and still rebound the next year.

“This creates a nightmare situation for landowners and managers trying to get a handle on this growing problem,” said Leary.

Feral hogs wreak havoc on crops and pastureland from their rooting behavior and trampling. As few as 10 hogs can destroy 20 to 30 acres of crops in one night. Hogs can also destroy fencing, feeders and waterers, and they compete for and contaminate livestock and wildlife supplemental feeding stations. They wallow in wet areas near ponds, streams and wetlands, fouling water sources for livestock and wildlife.

Leary says feral hogs eat almost anything they come across. They compete directly with native wildlife for food and water, particularly with deer and turkey for acorns—and their rooting and trampling destroys wildlife habitat. They will also eat any wildlife they can fit their snouts around, including birds, reptiles, amphibians—even fawns.

One of the biggest concerns for agriculture is hogs’ potential to spread disease. Feral hogs carry more than 30 diseases and parasites, and many of them are transmissible to livestock, wildlife, pets and humans. Two diseases prevalent in feral hogs, pseudorabies and swine brucellosis, have been eradicated in the U.S. domestic swine industry. However, reintroduction through contact with feral hogs could be economically disastrous.

Feral hogs also pose a human safety hazard through collisions with vehicles and, occasionally, direct attacks on people. Their rooting and trampling damages roads, ponds, trails and other infrastructure.

USDA has received $20 million in federal funds through the 2014 Farm Bill to help states either suppress or eliminate their feral hog populations, depending on the size and distribution of the populations. States with large, widely distributed populations, like Texas, are focused on reducing problems and population spread, while in states with small or emerging populations, the focus is on eradication. In Missouri, the focus is on eradication, but it will require cooperation between state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and private landowners.

Missouri’s eradication strategy has evolved over the last few years as the Department and USDA have learned valuable lessons about what works and what does not. Initially, the Department encouraged the public to shoot feral hogs on sight, but they have learned that hunting feral hogs actually increases their numbers and expands their distribution. In addition, “hunters generally only kill one or two hogs at a time and for a species with a high reproductive rate like feral hogs, this doesn’t reduce populations as intended,” explained Leary.

Feral hogs travel in groups called sounders, generally comprised of a few related adult females and their piglets, which can number 20 animals or more. Killing one or two members of a sounder only makes the rest of group more wary and difficult to catch. Landowners may be tempted to shoot hogs when they see them, but that educates the surviving hogs and causes them to disperse, ultimately making eradication more difficult.

“These animals are intelligent and highly adaptable, they quickly learn how to avoid getting caught,” Leary says.

MDC and USDA ask anyone who sees a feral hog or signs of them to report it so that the agencies can assist landowners in trapping and eradicating the entire sounder at once. After receiving a report, a MDC or USDA trapper will contact the landowner and assist them with trapping and eradicating the hogs.

“It is important to remember that trapping is a process, not a one night event,” Leary said.

In order to eliminate the most hogs, it’s best to take the time up front to get entire sounders consistently coming to a trap. Springing a trap too early, before all the hogs have entered, educates the survivors and causes them to become trap-shy and difficult to catch.

MDC regularly communicates with other states to stay current on technology for trapping hogs. Recently it began using a trap called the Boar Buster, which uses real-time video monitoring and remote trap detonation via cellphone to more effectively and efficiently eliminate entire sounders.

“Feral hogs are a serious issue,” Leary cautioned. “They threaten Missouri’s natural resources and agricultural industry.

”If you’re experiencing damage on your property in Missouri, call 573-522-4115, extension 3296.

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