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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Feral Hogs Invading New York

Unfortunately, the hoofed plague with sharp tusks that has been destroying wildlife habitat in the south is moving its way north at a rapid rate.  For decades, feral hogs have unleashed their destructive powers throughout the south and parts of the west but in spite of all attempts to curb the population, their numbers are growing and they are spreading in packs to new territory.

Feral Hogs caught on New York trail camera
Photo courtesy of New York State
Department of Environmental Conservation

Recently, the have become a problem as far north as Peru, New York.  It is feared that the Adirondack Park will be overtaken by the swine.  The park's millions of square acres is the largest section of uninterrupted forest in the northeast and once the wild hogs are established there, it will be virtually impossible to get rid of them.

While the domesticated barnyard pig is generally viewed by most as cute and harmless, the same can't be said for their wild cousins.  They are very smart aggressive creatures who feed primarily at night eating roots, berries, bird eggs, agricultural crops and meat.  Even in woods occupied by black bear, the pigs often become the apex predator of the area.  They have been known to prey on newborn deer fawns and domesticated livestock.

A thick cartilage shield covering their ribcage and very large sharp tusks make them a very formidable opponent.  Despite common folklore, their tusks aren't "razor sharp" but are indeed thick and pointed at the end.  With the strength and aggressiveness of the hog, the tusks can do a lot of collateral damage which is probably the basis for the razor sharp misconception.  They are also very intelligent and learn quickly.  Historically, population control has included live trapping of the species but usually only a few are caught before the remainder of the pack learns of the danger and moves to a new area.  This ability to adapt is evident when a captive domesticated pig gets loose and becomes wild.  Within as little as three weeks, it begins to undergo physiological changes designed for survival in the wild.  Its tusks begin to grow dramatically, it loses weight and size in the hips while gaining muscle mass in the front shoulder.  Its nose elongates for rooting in the ground and its feet begin to elongate to better navigate the forest floor instead of the barnyard.

They are prolific breeders, reaching sexual maturity in about six months and having as many as ten piglets per litter.  They have no predators except for human hunters and with their intelligence and longevity, their populations can easily triple each year.  To make things even worse, their voracious appetites lead them to "root" up the forest floor, damaging trees, bushes and small plants.  This ecosystem damage reduces the food supply for other desirable animals such as deer, turkey and small game species.  As a result, the preferred species' populations are at risk which ultimately results in less food competition for the hogs.

The wild hog population in the U.S. is currently estimated to be 5 million and growing.  Wild hogs are now documented in 35 of the 50 states and that number is growing.  I saw my first feral hog in Indiana last fall and suspect that I will be seeing more soon unfortunately.

There are three primary varieties of feral hogs.  The Eurasian boar is believed to have come across the ocean with Columbus to the West Indies and then travelled further by ship to the southern U.S. where it has thrived ever since.  The second variety is the domesticated hogs who commonly roamed "free range" until the 1960s.  Many of these types of hogs were never recaptured and became truly wild as pens and fences began to become the standard in pork production.  While these hogs don't look much like the Eurasian variety, they are equally competent in survival in the woods.  The third variety is the hybrid, a result of breeding between the first two varieties.

In the video clip below, a hunter describes his ordeal with a feral hog weighing almost 800 pounds.  I have seen many memorable things in the woods, but fortunately I can say that for now, I have never encountered anything like this!


1 comment:

  1. People have been talking about the feral hogs for years. Nothing new there. These stories always make these hogs out to be 'Hogzilla" when they are not. The hogs that have a thick plate are the boars as the plate is protection for when they fight. A sow does not have one.

    The feral hog weighing 800 lbs... most likely a pet that either got loose or was set loose. We have feral hogs all over out here and the chance of finding one that big is between slim and none. There can be some big ones, but they need to be very well fed, constantly and they might get to be 300-400 lbs out here, but even that is rare.

    Good post, but seeing that I am from NY and we used to hear stories about them when I was growing up... I think that there may be just a few of them around and I'll bet they were given their freedom by some farmer who didn't want to care for them anymore.

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