Wild hog problems continue to plague parts of the state, particularly in the Ozarks.
If numbers of these free-roaming swine increase, the problems they cause will also become more widespread.
For starters, let’s set the record straight: Feral hogs are not wildlife. That’s indicated in their name. In wildlife classification, a “feral” animal is a wild creature descended from domestic stock. A feral hog is a wild pig that can be traced back to domestic ancestors.
As soon as the earliest explorers came to the New World, feral hogs began appearing on the landscape. The earliest swine fugitives were food animals that escaped from the exploratory expeditions of the Spanish conquistadors.
As the land became settled, the open-range, no-fence methods of farming allowed for hogs to roam — and some to escape. The transitory nature and economic hardships associated with early farming also played a role in releasing hogs onto the landscape. Farmers frequently moved from one patch of land to the next, and if the hogs couldn’t be moved with the family, they were left behind.
Wild hogs in some parts of the country may still have lineages that trace back to early days of settlement. However, many of today’s feral hog population pockets here in Missouri and elsewhere are products of hogs that were intentionally trapped and relocated to create special hunting opportunities.
This is illegal and the reason it’s a violation of Missouri’s (and many other states’) fish and game laws is that it’s an incredibly bad idea from several perspectives.
For one thing, feral hogs are problematic in the wildlife world. They’re efficient, omnivorous predators that will eat nearly anything they can catch or come across. This list includes reptiles, amphibians, the offspring of ground-nesting birds and bird eggs. Their rooting and wallowing does extensive damage to streams and other types of wildlife habitats.
Feral hogs are also troublesome for farmers. Their rooting and wallowing can damage crops and fields and can contribute to soil erosion and stream siltation. Wild hogs can also transmit diseases to domestic hogs.
Missouri is trying to eliminate the state’s wild hog population through concentrated shooting and trapping efforts. The pursuit of feral hogs by private citizens is discouraged. This may seem like a contradiction, but there’s good reason for this approach.
Citizens who target feral hogs often unintentionally interfere with efforts to eradicate them. Weeks may be spent conditioning a group of hogs to come to a specific location so they can be eliminated in a single-control action. If, during that time, someone kills one or two hogs, the rest of the group moves to a new area.
This means the lengthy and expensive eradication process must begin again at a new location — often with hogs which are now more wary of methods being used against them.
States that have encouraged hog pursuit have also witnessed an increase in the number of illegal hog releases into the wild. Thus, because the goal is to eliminate feral hogs, the Missouri Department of Conservation is trying to discourage the hog-pursuit culture before it takes hold in this state.
However, citizens still have a very important role in feral hog eradication in Missouri. Feral hog sightings should be reported to the nearest Missouri Department of Conservation agent or office or to the U.S. Department of Agriculture — Wildlife Services. Reports from the public on feral hog locations are crucial to developing an accurate range map which, in turn, will help in developing eradication strategies.
By Francis Skalicky
(Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. He can be reached at 417-895-6880.)