If you've been online in the past two days, you might have noticed that the internet is erupting with memes, jokes, information, and even an interactive game, about 30-50 feral hogs. What the heck is going on, you might ask? Well, what started out as a serious question by a Twitter user amidst America's seemingly never-ending gun reform debate is nonetheless a genuine question that we must address. The famous question goes as follows: "Legit question for rural Americans - How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?". While the specificity of this question has driven many to hilarity, feral pigs in America are no laughing matter. They can wreak irreversible damage on ecosystems, endanger native plant and animal species, and can even harm or kill humans. Here's what the deal is with feral pigs in America.
What Are Feral Hogs?
Feral hogs also go by the names wild swine, Eurasian wild pig, wild pig, wild hog, Razorbacks, wild boars, or feral pigs. All names describe the same animal (sus scrofa), and they are a subspecies of the domesticated pigs we eat (sus scrofa domesticus). Through thousands of years of domestication, domesticated pigs have different physical characteristics to feral boars including light skin, sparse coats, and wide heads. While scientists originally thought otherwise, it has been recently discovered that domestic pigs continued to breed with wild boars long after domestication and European pigs are actually a mix of many wild breeds, including extinct ones.
Before I go any further, it is important to define the terms I will be using in this article (because they're all being used interchangeably online right now). A boar is a tusked Eurasian pig from which all pigs descended but male pigs can also be called boars. A hog is the term for a large domesticated pig or a fully grown castrated male pig. A sow is a female pig and piglets are baby pigs. The term 'feral' refers to any animal that was domesticated and escaped (or it's ancestors did the same thing) and 'wild' refers to animals (and their ancestors) that have never been domesticated. The pigs living in America today are all feral pigs, for they descended from domesticated pigs introduced hundreds of years ago (which will be explained further below). Proceed.
Feral hogs live on every continent except Antarctica and can survive in almost any climate, but they generally prefer less extreme temperatures. They can live in many habitats, including forests, agricultural areas, swampland, grassy areas and cities. They require dense vegetation to shelter and conceal themselves in during the day, and can be active in the day and night, depending on their environment.
Feral hogs can range from 145 to 599 pounds, and from 153 to 240 cm long, with females always smaller than males. As adults, they are covered in coarse hair that can be black, brown, red or white with speckled or solid colors. They have long snouts and slim heads that act like spades to dig in the ground.
Feral hogs are sociable animals, particularly females. While the basic social unit is usually a female hog and her litter (typically 5-6 piglets), they can travel in many varied group types, with multiple families joining to form a large group, which is called a sounder. Sounders can have up to three generations of families and can consist of 30 or more hogs. Sounders of 100 or more do occur, but only when a concentrated attractant (such as food crops or water holes in dry seasons) draws them together temporarily. Feral hogs can reach speeds of 20-30 miles per hour, and can jump over obstacles 3 feet high.
The History of Feral Hogs
Feral hogs are not a natural phenomena in America. Boars have been in existence for 40 million years, living before and during the Ice Age. They are reported to have thrived during the Stone Age, and became not only a source of food for the Neolithic man, but also served as icons or taboos in religion, mythology and superstition.
About 9000 years ago, the domestication of pigs became popular in parts of Asia, the Middle East and Europe. However, with religious restrictions on eating pork in parts of Asia and the Middle East, pork became a popular meat mainly for Europeans. x
Although it is somewhat disputed how feral pigs were originally introduced into America, it is thought that early Spanish explorers brought domesticated pigs with them to Texas, where they provided an important source of meat and lard. However, when the Texas Revolution happened, many pigs escaped and became feral. With pigs being highly intelligent and adaptable animals (proof of this being their ability to survive during the Ice Age), this number quickly multiplied and today, the population of feral pigs in America sits around 7 million.
Why Are Feral Hogs a Problem?
The problems that feral pigs pose are many. The USDA notes that feral pigs are extremely adaptable, have few natural predators, and reproduce at an extremely high rate. And because of these circumstances, wild pigs have been called "four-legged ecological disasters".
Feral pigs are omnivores, meaning they eat plant and animal matter. They can be described as 'opportunistic' eaters because there is virtually no limit to what they will eat: from grasses and roots, to invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles and carrion (dead animals), to agricultural crops such as rice, wheat, corn, potatoes and watermelons. They are also known to occasionally prey on livestock, especially newborn lambs, kids and calves.
Because of their sturdy bodies (the average weight for a feral hog in America is 180 lbs) and physical strength, feral hogs can be extremely destructive when searching for food. They naturally 'dig' for food, equipped by evolution with a large skulls and strong neck muscles, so that their snouts act as spades and can upturn rocks of up to 50 kilograms. In addition to upturning soil, their hooves trample crops and saplings, and one of their favorite snacks is seeds and nuts, meaning that forests with a high feral pig population will have trouble reproducing.
The consequences of feral pig populations does not just affect farmers and forests. Whole ecosystems can be interrupted by the damage feral pigs cause. Their rooting and trampling of soils can disrupt the water infiltration and nutrient recycling process. This in turn allows invasive plants to inhabit the area, choking out native plant species. Feral pigs are also a major threat to native animals and endangered species by competing with them for food, altering the habitat in which they live, and directly eating the young and eggs of native species. While any introduced species is a threat to the equilibrium of an ecosystem, feral pigs are especially destructive.
Do Feral Hogs Attack Humans?
Generally, feral hogs will only attack humans if they feel threatened or are cornered. However, sows are very protective of their piglets, and taking into account that female pigs can give birth up to two times a year from the age of 10 months, and their offspring stay with them for 1-2 years minimum, it is wise to keep a distance between yourself and female feral hogs in general. Males are also dangerous because of the canine teeth, or tusks, that are kept sharp and used as a weapon.
There are only 4 recorded deaths caused by feral hogs; 3 of them occurred when a wounded feral pig attacked it's hunter. However, with the number of feral hogs living in urban areas increasing rapidly, hog-related injuries are on the rise too. Incidents have included traffic accidents, when feral hogs caused a collision, as well as sudden, unexpected encounters with feral hogs when people are walking their dogs, resulting in the hog attacking the dog and it's walker. Feral hogs do not like dogs and have, on many circumstances, attacked dogs unprovoked.
Feral hogs are territorial animals, and most likely will attack when intruders enter their territory. When people are hiking in forests or undeveloped areas, it is impossible to tell whether they are entering a feral pig's territory, and hiking unprotected in a feral hog's territory can be deadly. Feral pigs can maim or kill humans (with the main cause of death being blood loss), and can also transmit diseases to them
How to Defend Yourself From Feral Pigs
Although the likelihood of getting attacked by a feral pig is low, it is nevertheless a good idea to know what to do in such circumstances. Feral pigs are most active at dawn and dusk, although if they feel threatened, they will attack. If you see a sow with her piglets, immediately put distance between yourself and them. The same goes for if you are walking your dog - take no chances, and walk in the other direction.
If you are facing a feral hog one-on-one, your best chance is to climb a tree. If there are no trees, remember that feral pigs are fast runners and side step and swings of their tusks they may aim at your legs. Do whatever you can to stay upright, for you are more likely to be seriously injured by feral pigs when on the ground. Throwing objects at the pig may aggravate it more, but if you have a chance of defending yourself with a stick or another object, do what you can.
If you happen to have a gun on you and feel that it is necessary to kill the pig, aim at the it's head. Feral pigs have strong hide on their shoulder blades and sides developed from years of fighting, and essentially act as a shield from bullets.
What Can I Do About Feral Pigs?
As they are such adaptive animals and prolific breeders, feral pigs are not easy to get rid of. Although they have established themselves in 35 states, they are causing the most damage primarily in the Southeast of America. Some states have legalized the hunting of feral pigs, where it is encouraged (you can even rent a helicopter and kill them with a machine gun from above). However, in order to reduce a species' effect on a habitat, it is required to remove 60-80% of the population each year before a difference can be seen. Looking at the current numbers, this seems impossible.
It is also possible to catch feral pigs in specific cages and have a professional euthanize them once they have been caught. However, if this isn't accessible, the next best option is preventing feral pigs from entering your back yard. Be sure to put all rubbish and food scraps inside closed bins, and keep flashlights near the backdoor to startle the pigs if they do get into your backyard.
In June 2019, the US Department of Agriculture announced that it will offer $75 million for the eradication and control of feral pigs in America. So if you'd rather leave it to the professionals to deal with this problem that has gotten out of hand, we're beside you with this one. If you're thinking about dealing with the problem yourself, read about the gun reform debate that started this discussion before going out and buying yourself a gun. Oh, and if you see 30-50 feral hogs coming towards you and your children, don't forget to tweet about it.