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Invasive Wild Pigs Leave a Swath of Destruction Across U.S. – And They Keep Spreading

Photo: Richard Bartz, via Wikimedia Commons. Distributed under a CC BY-SA 2.5 license.
Photo: Richard Bartz, via Wikimedia Commons. Distributed under a CC BY-SA 2.5 license.

They go by many names: wild boar, wild hog, razorback, Eurasian boar, feral swine. But whatever you call them, invasive wild pigs (Sus scrofa) are wreaking environmental havoc and spreading rapidly.

Wild pigs were first brought to the southern U.S. in the 1500s as a source of food for early explorers and settlers, and repeated introductions occurred thereafter. In the 1900s, the Eurasian or Russian wild boar was introduced to the U.S. for sport hunting. Today’s invasive wild pigs are the descendents of introduced wild boar, escaped domestic pigs, and hybrids of the two.

Gail Keirn, a public affairs specialist at the USDA-APHIS-WS National Wildlife Research Center, says population estimates for the number of feral swine in the continental U.S. vary, but there are likely between 5 and 6 million invasive wild pigs in at least 35 states.

Since 2004, invasive wild pigs have been moving northward at an alarming pace. In addition, the invaders began spreading throughout regions of Canada in 1982 and are threatening to expand their range into the U.S. from the north.

Invasive wild pigs’ success can largely be attributed to their lack of natural predators, impressive fertility, adaptability to a variety of climates and conditions, and tendency to eat almost anything. But humans have also helped these invaders spread: both unintentional and intentional releases from farms and hunting preserves, as well as illegal translocation of pigs to create recreational hunting opportunities, has contributed to invasive wild pigs’ recent range expansion.

Photo: Michael Gäbler, via Wikimedia Commons. Distributed under a CC BY 3.0 license.
Photo: Michael Gäbler, via Wikimedia Commons. Distributed under a CC BY 3.0 license.

Wild pigs are destructive, costing the U.S. an estimated $1.5 billion each year in damages and control costs.

“Feral swine cause major damage to property, agriculture (crops and livestock), native species and ecosystems, and cultural and historic resources,” says Keirn. “This invasive species also threatens the health of people, wildlife, pets, and other domestic animals. As feral swine populations continue to expand across the country, these damages, costs, and risks will only keep rising.”

This Little Piggy Went North

The continental U.S. is threatened by the rapid expansion of invasive wild pigs. A better understanding of the factors influencing their spread is needed to predict when and where they are most likely to spread next and develop anti-invasion strategies.

To predict their future spread, Nathan Snow and his colleagues at the USDA National Wildlife Research Center modeled the distribution of invasive wild pigs in the continental U.S. from 1982 to 2012. The researchers looked at factors such as landscape, climate, human presence, and biodiversity on the spread of wild pigs during this time period, and used the model to predict where the pigs are likely to spread next.

Photo: NASA, via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.
Photo: NASA, via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

Snow and his colleagues found that, during this period, the rate of northward expansion accelerated from 6.5 km/yr to 12.6 km/yr. If this trend persists, invasive wild pigs are predicted to reach most U.S. counties in 30-50 years, but likely faster if a southward expansion from Canada continues.

The results of the model showed that invasive wild pigs are most likely to expand their range into adjacent areas that are similar to the ones they currently occupy. However, the most notable exception was the tendency for wild pigs to spread into areas with colder winters, reflecting their expansion northward. Climate change may be facilitating the spread of invasive wild pigs to northern regions by causing milder winters with less snow. Milder, less snowy winters may make it easier for pigs to find food and survive.

Snow and his colleagues say that without immediate and enhanced efforts to limit the spread of invasive wild pigs, large portions of the U.S. are in imminent risk of invasion. To slow down natural expansion, anti-invasion strategies should focus along the boundaries of the pigs’ current range. Reducing the transport of wild pigs, both accidentally and for sport, will also be key for curtailing the invasion.

The USDA-APHIS National Feral Swine Damage Management Program was created in 2014 with these goals in mind. The program works with numerous federal, state, and local agencies, as well as farmers and other stakeholders, to address invasive wild pig damage management issues.

The program has seen some success in eliminating and stopping the spread of invasive wild pigs in multiple states, suggesting that hindering the spread is possible with rapid responses and improved anti-invasion regulations.

 

Reference:

Snow, N. P., Jarzyna, M. A., and VerCauteren, K. C. (2017). Interpreting and predicting the spread of invasive wild pigs. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12866.

Discussion
  1. Wouldn’t a bounty program work and be cost effective? If $1.5 billion dollars is the yearly cost in damage and control, and there are approximately 5-6 million feral pigs, why not pay a $50-$100 bounty on each snout? It would cut costs by over half, and with a hefty bounty people would fall all over themselves to cull their numbers. Even at $20 per snout it could pout a large dent in the population within a few years.

  2. An awful lot of links in the PLOS RSS feed are broken. They usually lead to a page that doesn’t show any graphic content. But this time, I had to search to find the article. Thanks for listening.

  3. Are they good to eat? I mean most animals that are naturally wild tend to have a gamey flavor that is off putting to some. People who have grown up eating game, like me, aren’t affected but I know some that just can’t get past either the taste or the idea of eating something that’s out of their comfort zone. I don’t know if I have explained my question properly but would really like to know if you have at the least any anecdotal evidence of their worth as a food source. Thanks in advance. Phil

  4. Yes. They are a good food source. My family hunts these pigs, and we make our own sausage, and also have some made at local meat markets. It’s natural, free of preservatives, lean, and makes very tasty sausage.

  5. I really appreciate the insight here in this post and confident it’s going to be helpful to me and many others. I’m wondering if you or anyone else has additional sources for me to read further and to be able to dig a little deeper?

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