Feral pigs have been plaguing farming communities in New York prompting wildlife managers and researchers to explore various management options, such as poisons, snares, and even aerial shooting, in a bid to control their growing population. Feral pigs are not commonly found in the northeast due to colder temperatures, but as of late, there have been sightings in 5 of the 62 counties in New York state.
Feral pigs, also referred to as wild boars and feral swine, are nocturnal animals similar in appearance to domesticated swine. However, unlike their domesticated counterparts, feral pigs are aggressive and can pose an ecological and economical threat. They have no known natural predators and are known to have voracious appetites. Feral pigs will feast on crops and vegetables, domestic livestock, ground-nesting birds, fawns, and reptiles. They are also breeding machines and can start to breed as early as 6 months of age.
Several concerns arise over the proliferation of feral pigs including the threat they pose to other wildlife. For instance, the state of Wisconsin has had problems with feral swine competing with their native white-tailed deer, and in other states, there have been population declines in quail and wild turkey because of wild pigs. Furthermore, feral pigs can also carry and transmit diseases and parasites to other animals and humans. Diseases such as brucellosis, pseudorabies, and tuberculosis are of especial concern to farmers and veterinarians, who come into close contact with animals on a regular basis. Brucellosis is an infectious bacterial disease that can cause abdominal pain, fatigue, fever, muscle and joint pain, and weakness. In addition, brucellosis can be chronic and can last for years. On the contrary, pseudorabies does not cause illness in humans, but can be transmitted to cats, dogs, cattle, and sheep and can often be fatal.
State officials in New York have set their sights on controlling the wild boar population that has popped up in parts of New York. Feral pigs were first spotted around a decade ago in Onondaga and Cortland County. It is believed that there are about a few hundred feral pigs in the state of New York and an estimated five million feral pigs in the United States, with high concentrations in Alabama, California, Florida, and Texas.
Ed Reed, a wildlife biologist for New York state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, notes that there is an urgency to control feral pig populations because once they have settled in a particular area, it is extremely difficult to completely eradicate them. In addition, feral pigs are smart and can sometimes even outwit traps. In New York, hunting rules have been relaxed in order to control the wild pig population. For instance, on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s web site, it has been declared that hunters with small game licenses may shoot and even keep any number of wild pigs at any time. So far, state officials in New York have settled on trapping feral swine given that it is difficult to hunt them because of their nocturnal nature.
Photo credit: dnr.wi.gov/org/land/wildlife/PUBL/wlnotebook/Pig.htm