Irksome ungulates have overrun much of Texas
By Buddy Gough
The old adage about cockroaches and coyotes inheriting the earth should be amended to include feral hogs. Of the three, past history indicates pigs will ultimately triumph because they are capable on consuming roaches and are bigger, smarter and more prolific than the wily coyote.
Domesticated strains of hogs were an important food source when brought to the country by Spanish explorers more than 300 years ago and later by European settlers spreading ever westward from the Atlantic Coast.
The practice of allowing pigs to range freely in the forests enabled the formerly domesticated strains to become ‘hogs gone wild.’ In Texas, their presence was exacerbated in the 1930s with the importation and release of “Russian boars” for sport hunting.
As voracious competitors with livestock and wildlife—not to mention the cause of damage to natural landscapes, grazing pastures, croplands and water sources—feral hogs soon became targets for hunters.
Yet, despite all efforts, the pigs have persisted—surviving, thriving and spreading relentlessly. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department estimates the number of feral hogs in the state at 1.5 million. Their numbers are greatest throughout the eastern half of the state, where they abound on public and private lands. However, hogs have also spread to the western half and can now be found just about anywhere in Texas, including preserves owned by The Nature Conservancy.
Females typically begin breeding at eight to 10 months of age, and while they usually produce one litter per year, they are capable of producing two, with litters ranging from an average of five piglets to as many as 12. Once they reach maturity, sows weighing 100 pounds or more and boars weighing up to 400 pounds have no natural enemies. With their razor-sharp tusks and armor-plated mantles of scar tissue, the boars are virtually impervious to just about everything short of speeding bullets.
Above all, feral hogs are notoriously omnivorous in comparison to native mammals. Their vegetative diet includes foraging and rooting for roots, bulbs fruits, berries and browse. They are especially fond of acorns and agricultural crops of grain, peanuts, potatoes and melons.
Besides plant matter, feral hogs readily feed on animal matter, including insects, amphibians, reptiles, bird eggs, deer fawns, lambs and carrion of any kind.
Suffice to say, feral hogs are incompatible with many species of native wildlife and the habitat on which they depend. While the eradication of feral hogs is not achievable in many areas where they are too well-established, control of wild populations is highly encouraged.
An integrated combination of hunting and trapping year-round is considered the most efficient means of control. Special hog traps can be obtained or ordered from farm supply outlets, but plans for inexpensive homemade versions can be obtained from the TPWD website.
For more information about The Nature Conservancy's work in Texas, including other invasive species we help control, visit nature.org/texas.May 19, 2011