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Pig Problems

Wild pigs are causing big problems across the United States.

By Amy Barth

Wild pigs may not sound like much of a threat, but they’re causing millions of dollars of damage in the U.S. each year. The creatures ruin crops and steal food from farm animals. They gobble up ground birds’ nests and their eggs. They also destroy fences to get to food and dig up sprinkler systems to get water.

These wild hogs are considered one of the worst invasive species (animals or plants that move to a new place and cause harm) in the U.S. They are causing the most trouble in Texas, but they have made homes in 35 states. Today there are about
6 million wild pigs across the U.S. Officials are working on ways to control the county’s growing pig problem.

UNSTOPPABLE SWINE

Spanish explorers brought pigs to America in the 1500s. Over time, some of the animals became wild. In the 1800s, wild boars were brought from Europe, mainly for hunting. Most of today’s wild pigs are the offspring of those two groups. Their population began to explode about three decades ago.

John Mayer is a biologist and wild-pig expert at the Savannah River National Laboratory in South Carolina. In the 1990s, he explains, wild pigs were illegally released in new areas of the U.S. for hunting. The pigs in these areas reproduced, or multiplied quickly, and their numbers skyrocketed. The females can have babies when they’re just 6 months old, giving birth to two litters a year. A litter might include as many as eight piglets. “We never saw this coming. It started to slowly build, and then it just exploded,” says Mayer.

As omnivores (animals that eat both plants and animals), the hungry hogs munch their way through woods and fields. “Wild pigs are the ultimate survivors,” says Mayer. “They can live pretty much anywhere, from frozen prairies in Canada down to the hot, humid rainforest of South America. And they eat just about everything.” They’re also smart and are good at avoiding traps.

Another problem is that pigs can spread disease. In 2006, there was an E. coli bacteria outbreak linked to spinach grown in California. The outbreak was traced to one farm there, where wild pigs had spread E. coli to the spinach fields. Hundreds of people got sick.

TAKING ACTION

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture set up a program to try to control the pig population. In Texas and other states, wild pigs are caught and sold as food. Scientists are also looking at ways to stop the pigs from having so many piglets.

“For years we said, ‘The pigs are coming!’ and nobody would listen,” says Mayer. “Now we need to act. Otherwise the problem will eventually impact all of us.”

Photo credit ufoncz

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