Feral swine more numerous, destructive in Oklahoma

BY D. SEAN ROWLEY
Senior Reporter
10/02/2019 08:30 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Pat Gwin, environmental resources senior director for the Cherokee Nation’s Office of the Secretary of Natural Resources, says feral pigs and the damage they cause are often seen during work in the field. COURTESY
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Feral swine are concentrated in the southern United States, but there are isolated populations even in the upper peninsula of Michigan. OHIO DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Devices and cages can be used to trap wild pigs, but Oklahoma law does not allow simply transporting captured swine elsewhere to be released back into the wild. OKLAHOMA DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE CONSERVATION
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Feral hogs such as this one have become a destructive invasive force in parts of the United States, damaging crops, native wildlife and native plants. OKLAHOMA CONSERVATION.ORG
TAHLEQUAH – They are simultaneously familiar and infuriating. For all the trouble they cause in the wild, some of their domesticated cousins are kept as pets, and they are among the most intelligent creatures of the animal kingdom.

The feral pig, (ᎩᏯᏗᎭ ᏏᏆ, GiYaDiHa SiQua) razorback or sus scrofa, has successfully expanded its range across the country, including the 14 counties of the Cherokee Nation. Since their introduction to the Western Hemisphere in the 16th century as a domesticated food source, pigs have escaped their pens or been released intentionally, and today they are among the most destructive invasive species.

Pat Gwin, CN environmental resources senior director with the Office of the Secretary of Natural Resources, said he had not heard any direct complaints from CN citizens, but his department has problems with wild pigs during fieldwork.

“They are horrific for native wildlife,” Gwin said. “They are having some very negative impacts on some of our more sensitive environments. Imagine taking a rototiller through your best flower garden. Imagine some wetland and wetland adjacent environs that have some of our rare cultural plants. (Wild pigs) are really detrimental to those environments, and we have noticed that out in the field.”

Feather Smith-Trevino, cultural biologist with the SNR office, recalled when feral swine were less pervasive in northeast Oklahoma. But their adaptable nature has been a boon to their numbers.

“They are really hard on the ecosystem around them, and that comes from them tearing up their environment,” she said. “They affect all animals and tend to be very territorial. People dislike them because they can be dangerous. They are omnivorous and will eat basically anything, and they can get into just about anything. They are one of our worst invasive. They are particularly hard on turkey.”

Wild pigs are proficient egg hunters, and will loot the roosts of wild turkeys and other ground-nesting birds such as quail and whippoorwills. Pigs also eat turkey poults and the young of other large species. There are even reports of pigs killing young deer and livestock. Virtually all smaller animals are on the menu. Pigs also eat acorns and compete for resources against deer, bears, opossums, raccoons and squirrels. They root for tubers and wallow, resulting in soil erosion and reduced water quality.

Pigs are also vectors for diseases that can affect animals. Pseudorabies can be passed to pets and livestock, and is usually fatal, but does not affect humans either by contact or consumption of feral pig meat. Wild pigs can transmit brucellosis and leptospirosis to humans. People are usually infected with brucellosis through ingestion of undercooked meat or contact with animal secretions. Leptospirosis is most commonly transmitted through the drinking of water contaminated by animal urine. Both diseases are rarely fatal and usually treated with antibiotics.

The direct danger of wild pigs to people is less severe than for other animals, though there are cave paintings dating back 52,000 years depicting pigs attacking humans. Wild pigs do attack people on rare occasions, and incidence has increased in recent years, but there have been just four documented deaths attributed to feral pig attacks in U.S. history – the most recent in 1996.

Through 2012, there were 412 documented attacks by 427 wild pigs against 665 people worldwide dating to 1825, but 70 percent were recorded after 1999. The increase could be due to better record-keeping, or the growth of pig and human populations causing increased contact. Attacks are often against hunters. Three of the four recorded U.S. fatalities were hunters attacked by wounded pigs.

Hunting is one method of dealing with wild pigs. It seems to have little effect on numbers, but sometimes changes behavior.

“One of the issues is that the population of hunters declines by about 6 or 7 percent a year,” Gwin said. “There are fewer people out there hunting with guns, so there are fewer hunters to control the population. It is not a recipe for success. Also, (pigs) are mostly nocturnal, and if they get jacked with, they will go completely nocturnal.”

Some people would rather trap pigs, but those wanting to use a more humane method should be mindful that trapping and releasing merely makes the animal a problem elsewhere. A trapped pig isn’t supposed to be released in Oklahoma unless radio-collared as a “Judas pig” for the purpose of finding and removing its entire “rounder” or group. The tagged pig must be released at the trap site within 24 hours of its capture, otherwise the captor is considered the animal’s owner. Pigs trapped for “removal” can be killed or kept by the landowner. They can only be “released” to licensed sporting, handling or slaughter facilities, or to a location designated by the state veterinarian.

“I see traps and you can buy traps, but I cannot attest to the efficacy of any of them,” Gwin said. “You can catch a pig, but they run around in groups. It will probably take a far more proactive approach than trapping. Some trapping involves relocating pigs to where they can be hunted. There are some people who are making money off this, because it is unregulated hunting. You can hunt them 365 days a year.”

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation refers to feral pigs as “vermin,” encourages hunters to kill them and supports trapping, but there are a few regulations.

• Wild pigs may not be taken alive from any wildlife refuge or management area.

• Hunting wild pigs does not require a license, but if hunting during a deer, bear, elk or antelope season, a pig hunter must possess a filled or unfilled license for that season if hunting with shotgun slugs or any caliber larger than .22 rimfire.

• Those hunting boar with a bow, crossbow, spear or knife need a hunting license on public land. Dogs and knives cannot be used during deer, bear, elk or antelope seasons.

• An orange hat or vest must be worn during the big game seasons.

• Landowners can contact their local game wardens for free hog control permits, which allows the taking of pigs on the owners’ property without a license during any season.

• Buckshot, and just about any weapon a hunter might want to use, is legal for pig hunting on private land.

• No license is needed to trap wild pigs.

• There is no “bag limit” – daily or otherwise – for wild pigs, and there are no check stations.

• Night hunting firearm permits for wild pigs are available, but can only be used on private land.

• Only seven of Oklahoma’s 77 counties are without wild pigs, and 10 are designated the state’s “swine free zone.” Transport of live feral pigs into or through Cimarron, Texas, Beaver, Harper, Woods, Ellis, Woodward, Garfield, Grant and Alfalfa counties is prohibited.

Gwin said CN citizens can call Natural Resources special projects officer Dale Glory at 918-453-5333 with questions or concerns about feral swine.

“We have a tribal wildlife program with Dale,” Gwin said. “He can assist people with the hunting of species on tribal lands. They can let us know which tribal unit they are concerned with.”

The ODWC maintains several web pages on feral pig control. Visit wildlifedepartment.com/feral-hogs-in-oklahoma.

Gwin said those wanting to alleviate the wild swine problem in their areas should expect some frustration.

“There is a reason this is an issue. This isn’t an easy problem to solve,” he said. “The entirety of the southeastern United States is having problems (with feral pigs). They’re everywhere and they can’t get rid of them. This is not an easy fix. It is far more a conundrum of such vast complexity that it may never be solved.”
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