“I’ve heard it referred to as a feral swine bomb,” says Dale Nolte, manager of the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “They multiply so rapidly. To go from a thousand to two thousand, it’s not a big deal. But if you’ve got a million, it doesn’t take long to get to 4 [million], then 8 million.”
Most wild pigs are a mixture of domestic breeds and European wild boar. “The problem with the hybrids is you get all of the massive benefits of all of that genetics,” Brook says. “It creates what we’d call super-pigs.” Domestic pigs have been bred to be fertile year-round and have big litters—now averaging more than 10 in each—and also to grow large. (Farmers limit their diets in captivity, but they fatten up when they graze at will in the wild.) Boars, meanwhile, have heavy fur and other attributes that help them brave the winter months. Wild or domestic, the species is highly intelligent, with a keen sense of smell.
Over the last few decades, wild pigs in some regions have grown to unmanageable numbers: Texas has about 1.5 million and spends upward of $4 million annually controlling them, with little hope of eradicating the population. Florida, Georgia, and California also have vast populations. “Pig populations are completely out of control,” Brook says of North America in general. “The efforts to deal with them are about 1 percent of what’s currently needed.” He says that his province of Saskatchewan will soon have more wild pigs than people.
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Years ago, reducing feral-pig populations hardly seemed worth the money, but today these animals are responsible for an estimated $2.5 billion worth of damage in the U.S. each year—mostly by mowing down farmers’ crops, as well as attacking calves, lambs, and pregnant livestock, and destroying native plants, animals, and precious habitats. A feral pig can host at least 30 viral and bacterial diseases, along with nearly 40 parasites.
Two notable places in North America are tapping into new resources to prevent, track, and cull pig populations. The province of Ontario has an emerging population of a few hundred pigs, and it’s educating the public, collecting data, and testing how to track and remove swine. Meanwhile, the state of Montana, which is currently free of wild pigs, has a snappy public-education campaign, support from local groups, and strict laws. “These are the areas where there’s been the greatest response and media attention,” Nolte says.
Both jurisdictions are also relying on wild-pig conferences, published studies on topics such as the impact of hunting on wild pigs, and experts who know how to take down a sounder in seconds. “We have better advice now than was available even five, six years ago,” Nolte says.