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Swelled ranks of feral pigs pose problem in US

By BELINDA ROBINSON in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-12-30 23:04

Jeremy Chavez helps his son Ryan, 6, with target practice before a wild hog hunt at Great Southern Outdoors Wildlife Plantation in Union Springs, Alabama, Saturday June 16, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]

In China, the rush to stop the Afri­can swine flu is at a fever pitch. In the United States, another battle is rag­ing — against feral pigs.

US  authorities  are  working  to reduce the population of wild pigs —now in the millions — because they are considered the most destructive invasive species in the country.

In June 2019, the US Department of Agriculture announced $75 million in funding for the erad­ication and control of feral pigs.

"Wild pigs will eat just about any­thing. About 90 percent of their diet is composed of plant matter, while 10 percent is composed of animal matter,''  said  Bronson Strickland,  professor of wildlife management at Mississippi State University Service.

"Wild pigs readily consume inver­tebrates, freshwater mussels, rep­tiles, amphibians, eggs from ground­nesting  animals,  small  mammals. As for plant matter, unfortunately, wild pigs commonly consume  agricultural  crops  like  corn, peanuts, soybean, rice, sor­ghum," he said.

"Our ecosystem didn't evolve with the presence of these pigs," said Rus­sell Stevens, strategic consultation manager  and  wildlife  and  range consultant for the Noble Research Institute  in  Ardmore,  Oklahoma.  "That's why their presence is so det­rimental to our native plants."

The first feral pigs were brought to the Americas by Spanish explor­ers in the 16th century. The Spanish released  the  pigs  as  they  traveled  and then hunted them for food if they returned to the area.

Then Eurasian boars were brought to the US, mainly from Canada, in the 1980s and 1990s. At first, they were  imported  as  livestock. They  mated with the feral hogs creating today's enormous feral population. Feral pigs are prolific breeders. Each female pig can give birth to six or more piglets a year.

In  November,  a  pack  killed 59­-year-­old Christine Rollins out­side an elderly Texas couple's home where she worked as a caregiver. It was only the fifth death attributed to feral pigs since the 1800s.

Mike  Bodenchuk,  state  director for Texas Wildlife Services, said that unprovoked attacks by wild pigs on people are "very rare''.

Around 6 million pigs live wild in parts of North America, mainly in the US South. Three million inhabit Texas alone. They have existed in 17 states  for  centuries,  but  recently  expanded into 38 states.

The hairy black and brown pigs can weigh as much as 800 pounds, and it is estimated that they cause more than $1.5 billion in damage a year. That includes the after­effects of the pigs' collisions with vehicles.

Wild pigs are also extremely adapt­able and can survive in extremely cold climates. Bodenchuk said that in Texas the wild pig population is kept under  control  by  shooting  them.  Some hunters choose to shoot them from helicopters with semiautomatic weapons.

Jim Cathey, associate director for the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute, said: "If you have pigs in a trap,  they're  a  formidable  animal.  They will do a few things. They may pop their jaws so you can hear their jaws  clamp  together,  so  that's  an  auditory warning and if you press them  —  say,  you're  trying  to  get  them to go into a trailer or whatever— they'll charge.

"They are super powerful; their canine teeth extend beyond their jaw."

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