Here, piggy, piggy, piggy

Burgeoning feral hogs pose problems

Jerry Dilsaver

November 01, 2011 at 5:12 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Feral hogs are spreading across North Carolina, and hunters are being encouraged to harvest every one they can.
Photo by Jerry Dilsaver
Feral hogs are spreading across North Carolina, and hunters are being encouraged to harvest every one they can.
If you aren’t aware that feral pigs are taking over North Carolina, let this serve as your warning they are. The situation has advanced to the point that, effective this past Oct. 1, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission removed the wild boar classification from hogs in six western counties and classified all wild swine in the state as feral. With this classification, there are no limits or seasonal restrictions for shooting feral hogs.

Hunters found this to be a good change.

Biologists are also very interested in feral pigs — but for different reasons.  Joe Folta is the Commission’s wildilfe biologist for the area that includes Wake, Johnston and Wayne Counties, and he is worried. These counties contain the Neuse River lowlands, which have been documented as the place in North Carolina where feral pig populations are expanding most rapidly.  Numbers are climbing so quickly it has become a hotspot watch area for the U. S. Department of Agriculture.

“Wild pigs are not native to this area, but have been introduced,” Folta said. “There are some interesting stories about how pigs came to be so prevalent in the Neuse River flood plain, but there are only two ways that can be documented.  The primary method is by hogs that escaped from the numerous hog farms located along the river. The other is by bringing them from somewhere else and releasing them here — and that is illegal.”

The hogs have already adapted to life in the Neuse River flood plain, so they have stayed close by. Numbers grew slowly for years, with only a few, scattered hogs, but when the construction of large hog farms began along the river, the stage was set for a feral hog population explosion that could no longer escape notice.

Folta said minor things like a tree falling on an electric fence and shorting it out or occasional breaks in a fence allowed a few pigs to escape from time to time, but that wasn’t too bad. He blames the current explosion on the flooding associated with Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Most people aren’t aware that pigs are excellent swimmers and once the lots and houses were flooded, they just swam to the closest high ground and waited for the water to recede.

“Another set of factors that aid in the growth of feral pig populations and makes it near impossible to control them is that pigs are incredibly adaptive and biologically sound,” Folta said. “With a supply of freshwater, they can survive on almost barren ground. They are prolific breeders too.  Many begin breeding as early as six months old and they easily have three litters a year. The litters average six to eight piglets, but may be 10 or more. Once they reach somewhere roughly 30 to 50 pounds, they no longer have any serious predators.”
 
Reports of feral hogs have come from every North Carolina county, from the western Appalachian and Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks.

“I have been in (northeastern North Carolina) for about seven years now, but I’ll never forget my first call,” said Chris Turner,  another Commission wildlife biologist. “It was for property destruction by feral pigs in Wanchese.  I’ve also had feral pig calls in Elizabeth City. I expected to see some pigs in the inland counties of this area, but I was a little surprised to see them so close to the coast.”

 A spokesman for the USDA said it is concerned with how fast feral pig numbers were growing and how they were spreading. The USDA has set up a lab specifically to monitor feral pigs in North Carolina. Their largest concern is pigs being brought in from other areas and carrying diseases that could be reintroduced to domestic swine. Feral swine have been known to carry or transmit over 30 diseases and 37 parasites that can be transmitted to livestock, people, pets, and wildlife.

The USDA APHIS area office is in the USDA offices at N.C. State University in Raleigh. The phone number for questions or reporting incidents is 919-855-7700. You may also call APHIS Wildlife Services toll free at 866-487-3297 for assistance in dealing with feral swine.

The USDA and WRC biologists are also concerned about feral hog diseases spreading to humans. Two of their most stringent recommendations are wearing long rubber gloves to clean and dress feral pigs and being absolutely careful not to allow cuts and any open wound to make direct contact with any part of the pig. Brucellosis (undulant fever) can be transmitted to people when blood or other body fluid from an infected animal comes into contact with a person’s eyes, nose, mouth, or open wound. Feral swine can also carry harmful organisms and diseases and a variety of bacterial diseases that can cause sickness and, in some cases, death to people who consume contaminated food products.

Many people like the taste and leaner texture of feral pigs.  This, their natural wariness and the trophy quality of a large tusker has quickly made feral pigs a favorite of hunters.  Even though there is no season or limit, hunters pursuing feral hogs must have a hunting license and follow basic hunting regulations.
 
While it would be wise to check in the location you plan to hunt feral hogs, this basically means local gun and light laws must be followed and Sunday hunting is on private land only and with bows or crossbows only. Night hunting is also allowed if it can be done without breaking the local light laws.

A hunter gets the skinning shed washed down before beginning to dress out a feral hog.
       


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