Over the past year, SAHC’s Roan Stewardship Director, Marquette Crockett, has been talking to conservationists, wildlife agencies, landowners, and farmers about something deeply disturbing in the Highlands of Roan — the growing frequency of invasive wild hog damage.
“The hogs are causing noticeable damage to globally rare ecosystems, including grassy balds, and are spreading into private lands,” said Marquette. “At our spring Roan Stewardship meeting, I was tasked with coordinating our efforts to learn more about these invasive animals and how we can control them.”
She’s been actively been coordinating with partners on a plan to address the problem, and has a lot of information to share (including some tips about what to do if you come face to face with a bristly beast on the trail).
What is a feral hog?
Let’s start with the basics – the word “feral” refers to a domesticated animal that has escaped and is surviving in the wild. Feral cats, dogs, pigs, and even donkeys are common, depending on what part of the globe you are in. So, when we refer to feral hogs, we are technically discussing domesticated animals that have escaped and are surviving in the wild. There are records of this type of “feral hog” from Roan Mountain and other areas in North Carolina in the late 1800s. However, it is important to understand that these are NOT the same hogs that we have today. The invasive hogs we are dealing with today are hybrids of feral hogs and Russian Boar.
According to the Center for Resolving Human-Wildlife Conflicts at Mississippi State, Russian boar were introduced to Hooper Bald in western North Carolina as a game species in 1912 and moved from there to locations around the country for hunting. Eventually, these hogs escaped from game farms and began to breed with escaped domestic hogs to create the hybrids we have today. Recently, these invasive hogs have been introduced into new areas of the state by humans in an effort to establish populations of hogs for hunting. They have been documented around the Roan Highlands since 2009, but may have been there longer. These invasive hybrid hogs are very aggressive and vigorous – they have no natural predators in Western North Carolina. Typically, hogs live 5-8 years and grow to about 200 lbs, but males may be much larger. Hogs begin breeding around 8-10 months old and have 1-2 litters (10-12 pigs) per year.
What are the impacts of invasive feral hogs?
One of the major problems caused by invasive hogs stems from their diet – they are opportunistic feeders, eating plant material including grasses, tubers, acorns, nuts, fruits, bulbs and mushrooms. They also feed on invertebrates (insects, snails, earthworms, etc.), reptiles, amphibians, carrion (dead animals), and eggs, as well as live mammals and birds if given the opportunity. Feral hogs frequently feed on domestic agricultural crops such as corn, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, potatoes, and melons.
Many of the rare plants and animals found in the Roan Highlands including Gray’s Lily, spruce-fir moss spider, endemic snails and rare salamanders could be eaten by feral hogs. Eggs and young of the golden-winged warbler, Henslow’s sparrow, ruffed grouse, wild turkey, and other ground nesting birds would also serve as a food source. Other rare species, including Carolina flying squirrels may indirectly suffer from competition by hogs for their preferred foods including truffles and insects. In addition to direct predation and competition with rare species, invasive hogs can cause significant physical damage to seeps and springs, grassy balds, and other sensitive habitats.
Invasive hogs are a source of disease for both domestic livestock and humans. They carry and can transmit to livestock: pseudorabies Virus (PRV), swine brucellosis (Brucella suis), bovine tuberculosis (TB), FADs, African swine fever, Classical swine fever (Hog Cholera), and Foot and Mouth Disease. They may also carry and can transmit to humans: leptospirosis, brucellosis, E. coli, salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, rabies, swine influenza viruses, trichinosis giardiasis, and cryptosporidiosis.
What can we do?
Unlike other large-scale environmental problems, we can eliminate (or at least greatly reduce) feral hog populations from our landscape with successful trapping and removal programs. For example, hog eradication has been very successful in Kansas – the latest reports indicate that numbers are below 400 individuals statewide. The success of the Kansas program was due to a two pronged approach – the state removed hogs as a “game” animal which made it illegal to hunt them (and thus removed the impetus that hunters had to introduce them into new areas) and then began an aggressive eradication program.
Currently, SAHC and our state, federal, and NGO partners have created a working group to address the problem of invasive hogs in the Roan Highlands. We are currently working to monitor and pinpoint areas of high hog activity, to plan trapping programs, and to educate landowners about the impacts of feral hogs. Hopefully, through a partner and community based effort, we can keep these aggressive animals from destroying our fragile highland ecosystems.
Hiking Safety Tips – What do you do when you see a wild hog?
Invasive hogs can be aggressive, especially when defending their young. They may weigh up to 300 lbs, have sharp tusks, and can charge very quickly.
- Be alert! Know the signs and tracks of hogs and avoid heavily used areas, especially at dusk or dawn when hogs are most active.
- Avoid water sources that have been used by invasive hogs – humans can contract multiple diseases from water sources contaminated by hogs and their feces.
- Hogs will generally try to avoid contact with humans, but may become aggressive if surprised, especially if piglets are present.
- If you encounter a hog on the trail, re-route your hike to avoid them. If a re-route is not possible, keep a safe distance and wait for the hogs to leave before continuing.
- If faced with an aggressive hog, the best option for protecting yourself is to climb the nearest tree.
- If directly charged by a hog, you should quickly sidestep out of the direction of the charge and climb the nearest tree or boulder.
- If using a firearm to protect yourself from a feral hog, ensure that it has enough knock-down power to be effective (otherwise it may be best to avoid the encounter and move to safety instead).