WE SOON HAVE TOO MUCH BACON?
folks would say there is no such thing as too much bacon. They might
agree, however, there is such a thing as too many pigs. Sarah Webster,
a University of Georgia graduate student, conducts research on wild
pigs. Studies by Sarah, Dave Keiter, and others in Jim Beasleys
research program at the Savannah River Ecology Lab, address the numerous
problems associated with the increase in wild pig population throughout
much of the country. Sarahs goal is to gain a better overall understanding
of wild pig population structure and ecology.
wild or feral pigs, hogs, and swine are interchangeable. According to
Sarah these non-native, free-ranging pigs were first domesticated
from Eurasian (sometimes known as Russian) boars approximately 8,000
to 10,000 years ago. They were brought to America by settlers and first
released in the 1500s. Feral pig populations are growing at a
disturbing rate. In 1982 they ran wild in 16 states, including all of
those in the Southeast. In 2004 they occurred in 27 states. They are
now found in 39. At least 5 million wild pigs are estimated to be in
the United States, the highest numbers being in California, Oklahoma,
Texas, and Florida.
concern someone might have when encountering a feral pig in the wild
is whether it will attack. A sow with piglets might protect her young,
as many mothers do, and reports have been made of boars charging people.
My own experience with dozens of wild pigs I have met over the years
in forests, fields, and swamps is that they just want to get away. The
two main dangers from wild pigs are less exciting than being attacked
and more insidiousproperty damage and disease transmission.
to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wild pigs are known to carry
over 30 diseases and 37 parasites that can be transmitted to livestock,
people, pets, and wildlife. Sarah notes that these include the
infectious bacterial diseases brucellosis (undulant fever) and leptospirosis,
to which people and dogs as well as farm animals are susceptible. Sarcoptic
mange, salmonella, pseudorabies caused by a virus, and toxoplasmosis
caused by a parasitic protozoan are other unsavory diseases that can
be spread by wild pigs not only to domestic livestock but also in some
instances to people.
pigs, the ones we get bacon, ham, and barbecue from, are kept in contained
areas and regulated by a variety of federal health safety standards.
Pigs become a nuisance when they become feral with no controls on their
activities. Property damage is a significant problem, and the impacts
are usually obvious. Pigs uproot native vegetation and wildlife habitat,
golf courses, and agricultural crops by feeding, rooting, wallowing,
and trampling. The annual damage caused by wild hogs is estimated
to be as much as $1.5 billion.
encourages nationwide management to control the spread of feral pig
populations. Removal by trapping and hunting are allowed in many areas
to reduce population sizes. The USDA asks that people report feral
swine activity to the proper wildlife and agriculture officials in your
state. Most states have strict regulations against trapping, transporting,
or releasing feral hogs into unoccupied territories as game animals.
Despite this, the once-common practice is still continued illegally
by irresponsible individuals. Recent reports indicate that feral hogs
have moved into some suburban areas, where they destroy horticultural
plants, gardens, and lawns.
Jim, Dave and others are taking an important initial step in effective
wildlife management and population control programs for wild pig populations
by gathering background data and conducting research to answer basic
questions about a species. They are also research partners in cooperative
programs with the U.S. Forest Service and the USDA-APHIS-National Wildlife
Research Center. Studies include estimating sizes of wild pig populations,
determining their genetic structure, and establishing home range sizes
and use of resources. All are critical to address the burgeoning problems
caused by this paradoxical species that gives us bacon and environmental
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