The latest generation in a long line of family farmers, Steve Christ of Hillsboro, MO, recognizes pork when he sees it.
So while he was out spraying fields this spring, he easily identified the boar that was walking along the wood edge. He also knew none of his friends would believe his story unless he took a picture.
By definition, what he saw was a feral hog. The state classifies as feral any hog that is not conspicuously identified by ear tags or other identification and is roaming freely on public or private land without the land manager’s or landowner’s permission.
Christ shared his photo with conservation agent Kyle Dunda, who said that even though the photographic evidence isn’t completely conclusive, the animal appears to be a large pot-bellied pig or other domestic swine that either escaped from its owners or was dumped in the rural area.
Missouri is currently in a battle to eradicate feral hogs. They are not considered wildlife, and they have more than doubled their range from 17 to 38 states over the past 30 years. They reproduce prolifically, breeding any time of the year and producing litters of up to seven piglets twice per year.
Advanced trapping systems allowed state Department of Conservation efforts to remove 3,649 feral hogs in 2015 and 5,358 in 2016. The numbers for the first half of 2017 are even better, with 4,128 feral hogs removed in the first six months. The trend line shows that efforts are working.
In addition to trapping, the strategy also includes aerial gunning, a method that added to the totals with more than 250 feral hogs in one week this year. Conspiracy theorists claim that state officials are just trying to keep all the fun to themselves and that individual hunters – without restrictions – would be more effective.
But two decades of “shoot on sight” and hunting efforts actually brought increases in feral hog populations since the 1990s. Captive hunting operations began raising wild boars for hunting, but some of those animals escaped to the wild. Even more problematic were other individuals releasing domestic swine on private and public land for sport hunting.
In response, the state has made it illegal to hunt feral hogs on lands owned or managed by the conservation department. Hunters often disrupt bait sites and traps set to catch entire groups.
Economic losses from feral hog damage are estimated at more than $1.5 billion annually in the United States. In addition to eating farmers’ crops, their rooting nature damages property and natural resources.
They also eat young wildlife and the eggs of ground nesting birds like wild turkeys. They have been known to kill deer fawns, and they eat a lot of acorns that provide deer and other wild animals’ primary food source. Feral hogs also are known to carry diseases that can be transmitted to other domestic swine and could threaten human health as well.
Steve Christ, who raises beef cattle along with row crops and garden vegetables, is keenly aware of the trouble wild hogs could do to a farming operation like his. If he had been carrying a firearm instead of his camera on the tractor, he could have rightfully chosen the gun to prevent the potential damage.
The state prefers that landowners report feral hog sightings and damage rather than shooting them, because in most instances the wild animals are traveling in large groups called sounders. Hunting or shooting them can remove one or a few at a time, but trapping can catch and eliminate whole groups.
The state has received grants to purchase additional traps, building materials and trail cameras for the feral hog strike team to assist landowners. State wildlife biologist Mark McClain leads feral hog elimination efforts in southeast Missouri. He spends a lot of his time with landowners and conservation groups working for feral hog elimination.
“With the new innovations in traps and with more landowners on board, all of us getting together and working at it, we can saturate that landscape with effort and come up with better traps, better baits and better ways of doing things,” McLain said.
Increased efforts and better technology continue to show success. The state and its partners will continue improving until their goal is met.
“As an agency with our partners, our goal is complete elimination of feral hogs from Missouri,” McLain said.
For more information about feral hogs and how to help with elimination efforts, go to mdc.mo.gov/feralhogs or learn more about feral hog damage by listening to a podcast at on.mo.gov/2veW83k. The state recommends that anyone who sees feral hogs or suspects damage that may have been caused by wild animals call (573) 522-4115 ext. 3296. John J. Winkelman is community relations manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. Send e-mail to email@example.com or follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.