Wild Pigs in America

How much do you know about wild pigs in America?
By Jerry Schleicher
March/April 2012
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Packs of wild pigs can tear up your lawn and garden.
Nate Owens
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Spec, Blake and I had gone to a barbecue joint in El Campo, Texas, where a good-sized crowd had gathered for the lunch buffet. Spec, who runs a local crop-dusting service, spotted an acquaintance standing in line and went up to say howdy.

The feller looked like he’d been in some sort of terrible accident, with deep scratches and puncture wounds all over his face and arms, and one eye swollen up. When Spec asked what on earth had happened, the man sheepishly admitted that he’d gone out hunting wild boars the night before. It seems he’d seen a TV show where hunters stalked and killed wild pigs in America with nothing more than a bowie knife, and he’d decided that would be an interesting thing to try.

Bobby Lee, we’ll call him, had come across a narrow burrow leading through a dense thicket of cactus and cholla. Just ahead, he could hear the boar snorting and snuffling. With his flashlight in one hand and bowie knife in the other, Bobby Lee began crawling through the thorny tunnel on his hands and knees. He’d progressed a few feet into the burrow when the narrow beam of the flashlight revealed a highly agitated 250-pound wild boar with tusks every bit as long as his knife. It was then that Bobby Lee realized he’d made an error in judgment. At the precise moment that the boar charged, our intrepid hunter hurled his body into the spiny walls of the burrow, leaving him more or less impaled on prickly pear and cholla spines.

Wild pigs in America: swine statistics

Fish and wildlife authorities say the wild pig population is literally out of control in many parts of the country. Texas is now home to an estimated two million wild or feral pigs, about half of the total U.S. population. Another half-million or more are found in Florida. And while the feral swine mainly live in rural areas and rough backcountry, homeowners in the Dallas suburbs of Arlington and Irvine have recently found packs of pigs tearing up their lawns and gardens, wallowing along riverbanks and streams, and even rooting for grubs on local golf courses. And the good folks are not amused.

Feral hogs are now found in 40 states, from Florida and Georgia north as far as Connecticut and New Hampshire. They thrive in much of California, as well as in Oregon, Idaho and Hawaii. They’ve also moved into Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Prolific breeders, wild boars can produce as many as three litters a year, with up to 10 piglets per litter. And they will kill and eat anything, including field crops, gardens, birds, chickens, turkeys, turtles, lambs and fawns. Researchers at Cornell University estimate they cause at least $800 million in annual losses.

The rooting behavior of the pigs causes ecological damage to streams, creek beds and ponds. They damage orchards, destroy saplings, and uproot native vegetation. In California, feral pigs were linked to an outbreak of E. coli in spinach crops that killed three people and sickened 200 others. And because they can carry diseases such as hog cholera, pseudorabies and brucellosis, the porkers can pose a health threat to domestic swine.

A little history on wild pigs in America

Unlike deer, bear or peccaries, wild pigs are not native to North America. Spanish explorers brought the first pigs from Europe in the 1500s. Early in the 20th century, Russian wild boars were released in North Carolina, California and Texas. They quickly interbred with domestic pigs, producing hybrid animals that can reach several hundred pounds – or more – in weight. In 2004, a Georgia hunter shot an enormous wild boar that weighed in at 800 pounds and had tusks measuring 18 inches in length. In 2007, an 11-year-old Alabama boy reportedly shot a wild boar weighing more than 1,000 pounds.

If you live in an area inhabited by feral pigs, your options to protect your yard or garden are limited. Experts say a chain-link fence buried at least 12 inches under the ground can keep out most wild boars. Some gardeners report that fencing their property with woven hog wire or multistrand electric fence can help, but say barbed wire is useless. Others have surrounded their gardens with fine plastic mesh, theorizing that the pigs will avoid an area where their feet may become entangled.

Wild pigs run in packs, called “sounders,” with as many as 30 animals in a group. To the delight of hunters armed with rifles and bows, many states now allow hunting for wild pigs in hopes of reducing their numbers. Wild pig hunts have become popular in Texas, California, Florida and Oklahoma, among other states. In Oregon, a law was recently passed that requires landowners to shoot or trap all wild pigs on sight.

Hunters claim that the meat from wild boars, especially the smaller, younger animals, is sweet and flavorful. Wild boar meat contains far less fat than domestic pork, so some authorities recommend that the meat be marinated overnight before cooking. One of the most popular ways to prepare wild boar is by smoking the meat.

A friend of mine recently built a new home on a timbered acreage in northeast Oklahoma. Shortly after he moved in, he discovered wild pigs rooting around his property. He built a couple of live traps, and before long, he had trapped several small pigs that he took to a nearby processing plant. The resulting pork chops, he reports, were delicious.

Jerry Schleicher lives in Parkville, Missouri, where he enjoys sinking his teeth into plenty of delicious meals prepared with pork. 


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Post a comment below.

 

Rob
3/27/2013 1:48:37 AM
Not a big issue but as a resident of the town mentioned, it was 'Irving' TX. not Irvine...

Evan Chaney
4/19/2012 7:54:14 PM
I would encourage this author, publication and the readers to give serious consideration prior to consuming meat obtained from feral swine. As a hunter and consumer of wild game meats and a food safety scientist, current research is unveiling an alarming trend in the disease prevalence that these animals harbor. The concerning matter is that they are excellent vectors of many zoonotic and foodborne diseases, some of which are also categorized as Category A and B Biological terrorism agents by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other governmental agencies. A shortlist of high prevalence detections (direct detection or serological) include such diseases/organisms as Francisella tularensis (tularemia), Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), Brucella spp., Trichinella, pseudorabies, swine fever, shiga toxigenic Escherichia coli, Salmonella spp., and many others. There is a great deal of concern regarding their movements and trending towards closer proximity to domestic areas and potential interactions with livestock being raised for food production (like a cattle feedlot). They also carry a very large burden of arthropod vectors such as ticks and mites that may further complicate transmission dynamics of the diseases they carry and increase the risk of exposure by humans and domesticated animals or livestock. With that said, I am an avid hunter and do hunt these animals, however, I use extreme precautions with handling them and I will not consume them. If you are going to handle them, barrier precautions are needed. Wear long sleeves and pants (perhaps duct tape the bottoms, wear disposable latex or nitrile gloving and take extreme precaution when dressing the animal. Mites and other arthropod vectors will depart from the animal as soon as body temperature and bloodflow decreases and will look for a new host...likely you. Nonetheless, if you feel you must consume this protein source, the meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of no less than 165 degrees farenheit. Some of the parasites that may be carried by these animals form cysts within the muscle as a part of the parasite's life cycle. Cooking to the proper temperature will deactivate and kill the cysts, however if the cyst is not killed, it may become viable upon consumption and encyst in the host's muscle causing many physiological symptoms. Some are shown to form cysts by crossing the blood brain barrier and entering the brain, causing extreme neurological illness. Cross-contamination with handling of both the harvested animal and the raw meat can cause problems within a home kitchen and lead to sources of recurrent infection and/or contamination. So, overall, it is left to those to make a choice of whether to handle and consume this protein source, but readers need to be made aware of the large disease associated risk that these animals present.








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