Google "wild hogs" and you will find an advertisement for the 2007 movie "Wild Hogs," starring Tim Allen and John Travolta. But, it is not these wild hogs I'm referring to; it is feral swine. That's right. Feral swine are loose in New York state. In fact, feral swine are reported in at least 37 states in the U.S.
In recent years, the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program broadened its scope to address all species, not just invasive plants and it expanded its programmatic reach beyond the Park to include northern Franklin and Clinton counties. One of the new species on the radar is feral swine. They came onto the invasive species scene this decade in New York and were first reported to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets (DAM) in 2008 in central New York near the Pennsylvania border. Since then, both DAM and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have been tracking feral populations.
Breeding populations are reported in several counties, and at least five other counties have had sightings.
Feral swine with piglets
(Photo courtesy of Justin Gansowski, USDA APHIS)
Feral swine were originally introduced to Florida in the 1400s when the Spanish colonized. Quickly spreading since the late 1900s, feral swine are now problematic across many southern and western states. The feral species in New York is the Russian European boar, which escaped high fence shooting preserves. In some instances, hunters intentionally released the pigs for additional wild game opportunities.
In the wild, however, feral swine devastate natural areas and agricultural lands. They create large, muddy wallows and gouge out soil searching for grubs, earthworms and plant roots. This destroys vegetation and degrades habitat for wildlife, such as the Blanding's turtle, a state Threatened Species. They damage trees by rubbing off the bark three feet in height as they scratch and remove dried mud or parasites from their skin. Feral swine also rip up rows of crops, ruining farmers' yields. In other parts of the country, they cause up to $100 million in crop damage each year.
Feral swine are omnivores, which means that they feed on both plants and animals, including young livestock and other small mammals. They carry up to 30 different diseases and 37 different parasites that put people, pets and domestic livestock at risk. Having long, sharp tusks and reaching heights of three feet and weights of 200 to 400 pounds, they can also be dangerous to people.
Do not confuse feral swine with domesticated pigs, however, as some domesticated pigs have been inadvertently culled as a result of mistaken identity. Feral swine have thick, black hair with straight tails, and domesticated pigs are pink or black, with a curly tail and usually very light hair.
Feral swine have litters of six per year but could breed up to twice a year. The boars are solitary travelers as adults, while the females and their piglets travel in groups, also known as sounders. They are nocturnal, so most travel and activity occurs at night. The home territory of a feral swine covers an area about 10 square miles or less but could range up to 50 if food is in short supply.
Population levels may be at a tipping point that could quickly escalate if not reigned in soon. The DEC, DAM, and U.S. Department of Agriculture are involved in a tracking, trapping and removal program in select counties in New York. The removal program helps to reduce damage to agriculture and natural resources and serves as an important checkpoint to allow the swine to be a part of the surveillance program for diseases.
To increase understanding about the distribution of this invasive species and to help protect agricultural and natural resources, report all feral swine sightings to USDA, APHIS, Wildlife Services at 1-866-487-3297.
Eye on Invasives is a biweekly column that spotlights a top invader when it is easiest to identify. Hilary Smith directs the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, a partnership program housed at the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy in Keene Valley, NY. Find out more about this award-winning program online at www.adkinvasives.com.