Thursday, July 27, 2017

Hog Wild in Texas

The Texas Observer:

Feral pigs are large: Adult females average 175 pounds and males reach 300 pounds or more. They breed often and in good times can raise three litters of up to 12 piglets apiece in a year. Their senses are sharp. They happily feed on anything from nuts and tubers to carrion and small animals. As anyone who has ever hunted one will tell you, they are adaptable, formidable and not easily fooled. Hogs are exciting game for sport hunting, and their ability to ingratiate themselves into human systems makes them the perfect invader.

Beginning in the 1970s, Texas sportsmen illegally — and unwisely — released wild pigs onto hunting ranches across the state. It was not the first time pigs colonized Texas — a batch had come with explorer Hernando de Soto in 1539 — but this time, for reasons that still aren’t entirely clear, the population exploded. They spread out from the ranches, sometimes foraging on supplemental feed left out for deer and pheasant, sometimes methodically working over farmland, sometimes mating with other escaped pigs. Crops of melon and rice, potato and soybean vanished. The agriculture industry reported thousands of dollars in losses, then millions. Hogs began disrupting fragile habitats in state parks. And still more arrived — trapped, trailered in and released as game. By the time state officials managed to put a stop to the practice in the ’90s, it was too late.

According to conservative estimates, there are now around 2.6 million hogs in Texas, more than anywhere else in the United States. Their foraging causes about $52 million in annual agricultural damage, and as their numbers increase they have pushed into suburban and urban areas.

There are perhaps $20 million worth of hog traps scattered throughout the state, Herring says, with the more expensive, remotely operated models going for anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000. Trapped hogs are sold first to meat processing companies, which buy only hogs over 150 pounds at 25 to 30 cents per extra pound. From there, they’re sold to restaurants and wholesalers in America, Europe and Asia. The number of hogs slaughtered annually in Texas is upward of 700,000, Herring says. Assuming all of them are about 200 pounds, a rough estimate means that companies are buying an annual $10.5 million worth of live hogs.

Recreational hunting is another moneymaker. The very industry that helped kick-start the problem has rebranded itself — accurately — as a conservation necessity, and the chance to fight the porcine hordes with dogs, bows and guns draws hunters from across the country. The state encourages this: Pigs can be taken year-round and without limits, though a license is required.

One result of a surplus of feral hogs in Texas and elsewhere, is the rise of pig hunting dogs -- rangy Pit Bull and hound crosses of various permutations.

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