As part of the monthly meeting of the Texas Alliance of Land Brokers, some 60 farm and ranch brokers were updated on current research into the “control” of feral pigs by the “chief pig biologist” at the Kerr Wildlife Mgmt. Area near Hunt, Texas.
As anyone who has spent time in the outdoors in Texas knows, feral pigs are a growing problem. Feral pigs for the most part are simply domestic pigs that have gone wild over time. Early settlers did not fence pigs in, letting them forage naturally and they stayed near the homestead for the most part. Over time, though, pigs strayed and began reproducing in the wild. The biologist said they now occur from the tip of South America to within 600 miles of the Arctic Circle! I’ve heard it said that if you own land in Texas and don’t have pigs, just wait, you certainly will.
He went on to say they can breed on average three times every two years and produce a litter of from 2 to 12 with varying survivability, depending on conditions. Today feral pigs have spread across the landscape and he said they really have no idea how many there are but the damage they do to farming and the habitat can be valued in the millions of dollars.
Efforts to reduce this damage include restrictive fencing, trapping, hunting from blinds and with dogs and shooting from helicopters. All these techniques are ineffective in the face of the pigs’ natural reproductive efforts and some are quite expensive. To better impact populations economically on a large scale, the use of toxicants or poisons seems to be the answer.
Texas Parks and Wildlife, in cooperation with the USDA, the EPA, and Australia, which has a similar pig problem, is working to develop a toxicant for feral pigs with the following criteria:
- The toxicant must be effective,
- The delivery system must be exclusive to feral pigs,
- The toxicant cannot pollute the environment, and,
- It needs to be economical.
Of the four, effectiveness is not a problem; they can kill pigs readily enough with a variety of poisons, and have developed a feeder that only mature pigs can open to access. They delivery feeder can also sense if the animal is in fact a pig, delivering a serious electrical shock as a deterrent to those that are not, such as raccoons and bears. Also, the feeders and the toxicant, once in general use and mass-produced, will be reasonably economical, with the feeder being easily moved to new locations as needed. No, the problem remains care of the environment, both long- and sort-term.
The most promising poison thus far, according to our speaker, is sodium nitrite, which is effective, reasonably quick, and humane. What researchers are working on now is the actual feed mix, as sodium nitrite smells and tastes bad (to a pig), and they must also conduct studies of any long-term impact on other animals and the environment.
Much remains to be done and I was glad to hear they are progressing slowly but thoughtfully. No one wants a repeat of the DDT debacle, where it was discovered years later that the pesticide was causing Bald eagle eggs to become too brittle to survive incubation (see Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”). For more information on feral pig control research, read the link below.