Feral animals are those that have returned to an untamed state after having been domesticated. Such is the case with almost all the wild pigs in North America. Although some of the truly wild Eurasian or “Russian” boars have been brought to the U.S., they are rare, and most feral hogs descend from livestock or are a hybrid of the two species.
The History of Feral Hogs in America
Hogs, the term for large pigs, were originally brought to the continent by Spanish and later other European settlers. Raised free range, escapee populations were not seen as a particular nuisance for a long time.
The existence of wild pigs is partially attributable to early efforts by some state wildlife agencies, including Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, North Carolina and Georgia, to stock them for hunting purposes. Now, the practice of transporting hogs from Florida or Texas, where they are extremely numerous, across state lines to other properties for hunting purposes is illegal, and can result in fines.
According to a “Hog Blog” review of the recently published book Wild Pigs in the United States, Their History, Comparative Morphology, and Current Status by John Mayer and Lehr Brisbin, as late as 1988 only 18 or 19 states reported the existence of wild hogs. But hogs are prolific breeders, and current estimates have them in about 39 states. They are anticipated to be present in all 50 states within near future. Their numbers are highest in Texas where more than 2 million hogs annually destroy more than $52 million dollars worth of agricultural resources, according to the Killeen Daily Herald in Texas.
According to Mayer and Brisbin, today’s wild hogs are permanently established in 21 states, but the remaining 23 have an opportunity to eradicate their problem, if prompt action is taken.
Threats Posed by Feral Hogs
Biologists call hogs “opportunistic omnivores,” which means they will eat pretty much any edible plants or animals they can put their snouts on. Moreover, feral hogs are formidable predators, eating frogs, snakes, lizards, eggs, and birds and taking game as large as young goats, cattle, and fawns.
Hogs travel in large groups, and their rooting behavior can turn a crop field - or increasingly a subdivision’s lawns - into an uneven muddy wasteland overnight. In soft soils, they can dig up to three feet deep. After destroying habitat, the exposed soils left behind contribute to erosion and declining water quality. Hogs in Arkansas have been responsible for the destruction of sensitive irreplaceable habitats, such as acid seeps in the Ouachitas and cedar glades in the Ozarks.
Feral hogs are also reservoirs of disease that can affect domestic swine, other animals, and even humans. The threats to animals come from brucellosis and pseudo rabies. Pseudo rabies can be fatal to domestic swine, livestock, dogs, cats, and small mammals. Once infected, hogs are carriers for life.
Swine brucellosis causes infertility, and is a serious threat to producers of domestic swine. Humans can also contract brucellosis, through direct contact with uncooked meat and carcasses. Cooking the meat kills the brucellosis bacterium.
The Arkansas Razorbacks
Exploding feral hog populations have come to Arkansas. A 2009 letter written by Arkansas Fish & Game biologists stated that the number of Wildlife Management Areas where hogs occur has doubled to 29 since 2000. All areas of the state now host feral hog populations, but they are most dense in the bottomland hardwood forests of the south.
Studies of hog stomach contents indicate that numerous species of conservation concern in Arkansas may be prey to feral hogs. These include six mammals (mice and shrews) and 13 species of ground-nesting birds including the Wood Thrush, American Woodcock, and Northern Bobwhite Quail. Fecal contamination by hogs also poses a threat to Arkansas’s unique freshwater mussel fauna.
Another concern is traffic fatalities. A high speed collision between an automobile and a feral hog that weighs up to 750 pounds is as bad or worse than hitting a deer. Every year there are 27,000 auto collisions with hogs in the U.S.
Hunting Hogs: A Partial Solution
Mayer believes that a national strategy is required to address the problem of feral hogs across state and federal borders in North America. Every year hogs cause an estimated $800 million in property and crop damage, and this number will only grow without a concerted effort to stop it.
Until that happens, Arkansas state authorities allow and encourage the hunting of wild pigs as a control on feral populations. Arkansas Game and Fish Commission regulations for hunting feral hogs say:
- Feral hogs may be killed or trapped year-round, day or night, on private land only, with the landowner’s permission.
- No hunting license is required to hunt on private land, but those with revoked hunting licenses are barred from hunting.
- All general regulations for hunting safety must be observed.
- Hunters are encouraged to kill hogs on Wildlife Management Areas.
- On Wildlife Management Areas, hunters may kill feral hogs only during daylight hours during any open hunting season, using a weapon legal for the season.
- The use of dogs, bait or traps to hunt feral hogs on WMAs is forbidden.
- Feral hogs killed on WMAs can be taken or left where they were shot.
Additional precautions should be exercised when hunting hogs. They are large, fast, strong, and well-muscled animals. In an Arkansas news article by Joe Mosby, for hog work he recommends rifles or muzzle-loaders suitable for deer hunting. Even shotguns will not work unless loaded with a slug.
To avoid brucellosis, care should be exercised when dressing a killed hog, including the use of gloves. Young hogs can make good eating, but must be thoroughly cooked to kill any disease organisms they may be harboring.
As stated by Tommy Stroud, a Texas Hog Hunter quoted in the blog “Environmental Graffiti” (U.S. Pig Population an Ecological Disaster): "The hog is the poor man's grizzly. If you shoot at a hog, you'd better shoot straight, because if you don't kill it, he might try and kill you.”