North Carolina farmer Frank Baumgartner is at war. Week after week, his crops are ravaged by a pest that has no corresponding pesticide and is difficult to impossible to repel from the fields. The pest he battles is not an insect, not a weed, and not a disease; it’s a wild pig.
In the last few years, wild pigs have been multiplying to the point where several states have already changed hunting laws to try to manage wild pig populations. Last year, Texas passed a law allowing aerial hunting of feral pigs. Last month, Oklahoma legalized the ability to release “Judas pigs” wearing a tracking device to “rat out” the rest of the herd. And North Carolina has just approved night hunting for wild pigs and coyotes.
Wild pigs include both feral hogs (pigs that were once domestic but escaped) and wild boar, introduced to the U.S. from Eurasia. The two species can interbreed, and their offspring can reproduce prolifically. According to an Extension publication on wild pigs, a wild pig population can double in just four months. Wild pigs are not a new introduction; they have actually been around since Christopher Columbus introduced them in 1493 (Barrett and Birmingham 1994). In the last few years, however, they have been introduced into states that had no wild pigs before, and their fast reproductive rate has been causing havoc for the agricultural community.
According to several sources, wild pigs are either loved or hated, depending on each person’s vantage point. Hunters argue that wild pigs are a great source of recreation because they are more intelligent and faster than other game such as deer, making them more of a challenge to hunt. Farmers and homeowners, on the contrary, dread the news of wild pig herds in their area because of the destruction they can cause to property. Wild pigs can flatten crops and dig up lawns and fields.
In North Carolina, hog farmers are worried about what the presence of wild pigs will do to the state’s profitable pork industry, especially since researchers have discovered that wild pigs carry antibodies to pseudorabies virus and Brucella suis (Sandfoss, et al., 2012). Dr. Mark Sandfoss with NC State University, along with a team of scientists from the university and USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, tested feral swine for both diseases and discovered several feral swine that carried B. suis in 2008. According to the article, the authors believe that the disease was introduced into the North Carolina feral pig population from swine from South Carolina. Currently native hogs in North Carolina do not carry antibodies to either virus, so hog farmers worry that feral pigs could transmit the disease to their livestock. The diseases are also transmissible to humans, mostly through the meat preparation process.
In addition to the two diseases found in feral pigs in North Carolina, cholera, swine brucellosis, trichinosis, bovine tuberculosis, and food and mouth disease are other diseases that can be transmitted by wild pigs to both native pigs and cattle.
Across the nation, wild pig populations number between 5 and 8 million and can be found in at least 45 states. Several states have outlawed bringing live wild pigs into the state. In some states, it is illegal even to move a wild pig to another location.
Anyone who hunts wild pigs and prepares the meat needs to take necessary precautions to wear protective clothing and gloves while butchering the pig and cook the meat to the proper temperature of 145 degrees F. (USDA).
Resources on wild pigs:
Barrett, R.H., and Birmingham, G.H. “Wild Pigs.” Cooperative Extension Publication, University of Nebraska – Lincoln, 1994. http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/nreos/wild/wildlife/animals/mammals/wild_pigs.htm
Sandfoss, M.R., DePerno, C.S., Betsill, C.W., Palamar, M.B., Erickson, G., and Kennedy-Stoskopf, S. “A serosurvey for Brucella suis, classical swine fever virus, porcine circovirus Type 2, and pseudorabies virus in feral swine (Sus scrofa) of eastern North Carolina.” Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 48(2), 2012, pp. 462-466.
Kulikowski, M. “Study Shows First N.C. Case of Feral Pig Exposure to Nasty Bacteria.” http://news.ncsu.edu/releases/mk-feral-pig-bacteria/.