Last year I wrote a column about feral hogs and the problems they cause. The response to that column has continued, and the areas where feral hogs are now plentiful have dramatically increased. I have had numerous emails, calls, and personal contacts with people who are seeing the damage these hogs are doing, and they understand the problem. After hearing from a large numbers of individuals, some who are now seeing feral hogs for the first time, I have become aware of how large the feral hog problem is, how fast it is growing, and how little we are doing to eliminate it.
A little research into the problem shows we aren’t alone with the feral hog problem, and most southern states have a rapidly growing population of them. Texas estimates around 2 million, and in Arkansas we can only guess, but from some of the aerial sightings, and response to hog traps, I believe, and this is a conservative guess, we are in the 1 million plus hog range and rapidly growing.
When you consider a sow will begin to have six to eight piglets at seven months and have three litters a year, the number has grown by several hundred while I type this column. I’m sure not a math student, but studies have shown the hogs population can increase by an average 86 percent a year. That means the population will nearly double every year, and the numbers of hogs will grow exponentially. In five years, Arkansas could have over 10 million and that’s not fake math.
However, the South sure isn’t the only place where feral hogs are a problem, nor is the United States the only country with the problem. In Australia 49 domestic hogs were brought to the country in 1788 as food for settlers. Evidently some escaped and since there is almost an absence of hog predators in the county, they expanded, until in 2017 the hog population was estimated at 23 million. The population of humans in Australia is 21 million so in the space of 225 years those 49 hogs have increased to the astounding figure listed above.
The numbers have alarmed the Australian Government because of the damage they are doing. According to their study, 40% of the newborn lambs are killed and eaten by feral hogs, and ground nesting birds have been eliminated in areas where the hog population is dense. There is a National Campaign to eliminate the hogs, but hunts that have killed thousands, find out in a few short years, the hogs have reproduced and are back to the dense population where they were before the hunting campaign began.
I wish I could write that Australia has figured out a way to control the hogs, but they haven’t. However, they have raised the awareness of the problem, and through co-operation with various game and fish groups, they are attacking the hog problem with a variety of ways. They have even tried to poison the hogs with baited corn, but too many other animals were lost while trying to control the hog population. Even with all the focus they can mount to control them, according to most studies, the best they can hope for is to keep the population from expanding even more.
Here in Arkansas, we are just coming into an awareness that maybe we do have a problem. I base that on the almost absence of any serious attempt to reduce or eliminate the problem. I know it’s open hunting season on feral hogs, and with thousands of deer hunters in the woods each fall they could reduce the hog numbers substantially. However, those hunters are not out there to hunt hogs. They are deer hunters, and unless they want to spook every deer within a half mile by blasting away at a feral hog, they are not going to shoot one. So unless one of the hogs gets into the beer cooler at camp, very few are going to be killed by deer hunters.
The Australian study also concluded feral hogs have a huge impact on ground nesting birds, and in areas where the hogs were extremely plentiful, they eliminated the birds. Of course, here in Arkansas we have seen our quail disappear over the past 20 years until the point where we have more cougar sightings than a quail covey. Is it a coincidence that over the past 20 years we have seen the feral hog population expand exponentially as the quail population drops? Just consider this: if the studies on the population growth of feral hogs is even close, in five years we could have over 10 million feral hogs roaming the woods and fields in Arkansas. If even 5 percent of those hogs find one quail nest a year, we’ll never have a decent population of quail return to Arkansas, no matter how much wonderful quail habitat we have.
As any farm boy will tell you, a hog will eat almost anything, and when we consider the Arkansas wildlife in danger, it is easy to see we have a serious problem. If we view one of Australia’s major problems, which is the loss of 40 percent of the newly born lambs to feral hogs, it is certainly possible that here in Arkansas, while we sure don’t have lambs to be eaten by hogs, we have several hundred thousand fawns born every year. If a hungry hog comes upon a doe giving birth, that fawn is going to be eaten. I think, when we reach the point where we are losing 30 percent to 40 percent of the fawns born each year, which could occur in less than five years, we will realize the enormity of the problem. If you don’t think a lean, feral hog can run down a week old fawn, you have never seen a wobbly, new born fawn.
When we reach that point, which may happen sooner than we anticipate, then the feral hog problem will be so obvious that drastic measures will be mandated to get them under control. Of course, the idea that we would have to trap or shoot every hog eliminated without any help from predators will make the job of getting the hog population under control a lot harder. Wouldn’t it be better if we had some help in controlling the hogs? Well, sure it would, and restoring the ecology of Arkansas by restocking the apex predators (wolves, mountain lions, and bears) we would have partners who would prey on feral hogs and help us get the problem under control.
If we don’t restore these predators, we will be fighting the 86 percent increase of feral hogs each year. Anyone who thinks we don’t need help in feral hog control can’t do fifth grade math. The help we could get from the introduction of significant predators into the Arkansas environment, would give us a group of animals that would work 24 hours a day 365 days a year eliminating feral hogs.
To restore these predators to the Arkansas ecosystem is the only way to eliminate the problem, and we desperately need to move forward to control the feral hog population, but we are doing very little to stem the tide.
Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email richard@ gibraltarenergy.com