Feral hogs becoming big problem locally

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hogs damage property, spread disease, compete for food

Feral hogs are becoming a big problem in several counties in southern Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation (DOC).

Populations of feral hogs typically occur in remote terrain and are established in several Missouri counties, including Barry County.

The DOC considers the animals an invasive species because they damage property and spread disease to humans, pets and livestock. Their rooting, wallowing and feeding behaviors erode soil, reduce water quality, damage agricultural crops and hay fields, and destroy sensitive natural areas such as glades and springs. Because they are non-native, destructive and dangerous, the DOC believes they should be eliminated from Missouri.

The hogs have genetic combinations that include Russian or Eurasian wild boar (razorbacks), an assortment of domestic varieties such as Yorkshire, Hampshire, Duroc and even pot-bellied pigs. Offspring can exhibit a variety of shapes and colors, including gray, red, black, blond, spotted and belted. All have small eyes, large, triangular ears and a long snout. They have a thick coat of coarse, bristly hair, which they can erect along their spine, lending them the name, razorback.

Boars can be up to three feet at the shoulder; five feet in length and weigh up to 400 pounds. Most sows average 110 pounds and boars, 130 pounds. Hogs are mostly nocturnal, and travel in groups called sounders. Because they require abundant water, they spend much time near ponds and streams.

Problems from the animals initially increased in the 1990s when hogs escaped confinement or were released intentionally on public land. By the next decade, private landowners were reporting significant damage.

"I came here in 2000, and we seldom had any calls," said Mike Petersen, private land conservationist for Barry County with the DOC. "Then, in 2004, it just went crazy, and I think it was due to hog hunting. In Texas, it was in high demand, so we had people releasing them in Missouri to hunt, and of course there were escapees from farms. But, I think that was small compared to those that were released. And now, we're just trying to keep up with them.

"They're in the whole southern part of Missouri, including Barry County. There are some private areas and forest service property [in the Mark Twain Forest] also. Basically, all the counties around here have them. People call us, and that's where we get to know where they're at."

Petersen said the animals serve no purpose, cause a lot of damage, and carry over 33 diseases.

"They have no predators to speak of, and they're in new habitat with all the same foods as what wildlife eats," Petersen said. They cause erosion problems but also eat all the acorns, so they compete with the deer and turkeys for that [major] food source."

Once a sighting is reported, the DOC attempts to trap the animals, test it for parasites, then shoot it.

"The other point is they carry diseases," he said. "So, they could get to the domestic herd with those diseases. And some can even transmit over to dogs. They test for 33 different diseases. We send blood tests for the ones we capture and the USDA tests them.

"We would like people to report sightings. Then we'll go out and track the sounder."

Petersen said they track the hogs by the damage they leave behind.

"The landowner takes us to that spot [where they were seen]," he said. "There are rooting activities where they turn over the sod looking for grubs. It's not like an armadillo rooting around. They root at over four-inches deep. They'll get in water holes and coat their bodies in mud, and they'll rub up against trees to get rid of parasites; so that's how we find them."

The hogs are normally not aggressive toward people, unless it's a sow with piglets or they feel cornered, Petersen said.

"Usually they'll leave you alone," he said. "If the sow has piglets, she'll be more prone to protect them, like anything else."

Petersen said he doesn't recall a single case in Missouri where someone has been attacked, but in the rare occasion one should charge, he advised getting off the ground, because the hogs are fast.

"They're pretty agile on the ground, so get off the ground," he said. "Climb a tree. That's about your only option, or make a loud noise."

According to Petersen, the state is involved in the issue, namely the USDA, because pork production is a big industry in Missouri, and disease poses a real threat to it.

"If any of these [pork production] facilities get two hits of a disease in that confinement area, they can be shut down," Petersen said. "They have an exporting license from the feds, and if disease breaks out they can take away that permit."

Petersen estimates the pork industry equates to about $44 million dollars per month from exporting pork from Missouri.

"I haven't seen any [specific] documentation, but it's big business," he said. "That would really hurt the economy if disease broke out. So [the Feds] are keeping an eye on it."

If a feral hog is seen, landowners should report it to the DOC at 417-847-5949 or 573-522-4115, extension 3296.

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