A recent study conducted by the University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health has pinpointed Texas as ground zero for the most severe feral hog problem in the United States. The study reveals that Texas, along with other Southern states, reports the presence of these invasive animals in 100% of their counties. The feral hog population has witnessed a significant surge over the past four decades, becoming a formidable challenge.
Characterized by a size of up to five feet in length, a weight of 400 pounds, and an impressive running speed of 30 miles per hour, these tusked, hairy, and aggressive creatures, known by various names like feral swine, wild boar, wild hogs, or razorbacks, have become one of the most destructive invasive species in the U.S. Notably, they lack significant natural predators, and their voracious appetite, coupled with their adaptability to various climates, makes them a menace to agriculture and ecosystems.
The origin of the feral hog problem traces back to the 1500s when European settlers introduced Sus scrofa, a species encompassing both domestic pigs and wild hogs, for sustenance. As settlers expanded across the U.S., escaped pigs reverted to their wild state. In the 1900s, European or Russian boars were introduced for sport hunting, leading to interbreeding with escaped domestic pigs and creating hybrids with robust traits.
Wild hogs possess qualities such as intelligence, a strong sense of smell, and the ability to thrive in the wild by grazing freely. Their fertility, with sows giving birth to litters up to twice per year, fuels exponential population growth. This reproductive prowess has contributed to their expanded range, from a presence in 20 states four decades ago to 36 states today, with the number of affected counties nearly tripling from 550 in 1982 to 1,496 in 2023.
The consequences of this expansion are substantial, causing approximately $2.5 billion in damages annually, as they root and trample farm and forest lands, devour crops, and transmit diseases and parasites, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Efforts to control the feral hog population have varied in success. Hunting, a popular but limitedly effective strategy, is often impeded by the animals’ ability to relocate in response to hunting pressure. Fencing and trapping prove more effective but demand significant upkeep and investment. Despite extensive research into pharmaceutical controls, the U.S. lacks approved legal poisons for hogs.
As the feral hog crisis intensifies, states across the country are grappling with mitigation tactics. California and Hawaii, while facing challenges, are not immune, but the southern U.S. remains the epicenter of this escalating issue, with most states reporting sightings in over 90% of their counties. The battle against these invasive creatures continues, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive and sustainable solutions to curb their detrimental impact on agriculture and ecosystems.