By The Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s rapidly growing wild hog population is cutting its own destructive swath through the state, and along the way exacting a heavy toll on the state’s ecosystem.
Wild hogs, sometimes referred to as feral pigs, are swine that were once domesticated and were released or escaped into the wild. Their ability to reproduce quickly and insatiable appetite have make wild hog sightings a common occurrence for Golden Triangle sportsmen and farmers. More significantly they present a growing problem without an obvious solution.
The hog are particularly prevalent in Clay County, said Bronson Strickland, an associate extension professor of Wildlife Ecology and Management at Mississippi State University.
“There are some true Russian or European wild boar in Mississippi, but they were deliberately brought here and let loose for hunting,” he said.
Lowndes County Agent Reid Nevins said wild hogs are not as common in Lowndes County — at least, not yet.
“We don’t have the number of wild pigs here in Lowndes County that have in, say, Clay County or Monroe County,” Nevins said. “It’s coming. It’s only matter of time.”
Strickland said that even though wild hogs are capable of breeding a couple of times a year, one of the major problems is the transporting of wild hogs.
“This is one of the biggest things we have to stop,” Strickland said. “People like to transport wild hogs and let them loose in other areas so they can later hunt them. They don’t think it’s hurting anything but it is. The pig population expands naturally and that is a big enough problem. The transportation of hogs, which is illegal, only makes it worse.”
Feral hogs can also be a threat to public health. According to research gathered by the MSU Extension Service, wild pigs are known carriers of at least 45 different parasites and diseases that pose threats to livestock, pets, wildlife and in some cases, humans.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks has labeled wild hogs a nuisance species, allowing landowners to hunt them year-round without restrictions. They can be hunted with bait, such as corn and can even be hunted with dogs or trapped.
Pheba is a small community in western Clay County about 18 miles west of West Point.
It home to a large infestation of wild hogs that are leaving a visible path of destruction as their numbers increase.
Will Miller is the owner of JMK Farm Services, a company that traps wild hogs, beavers and other nuisance animals.
On this day, Miller had set several wire snares on the 3,800 acres of land near Pheba he manages. The land is valuable for its timber and wild-game hunting. Miller said the timber has been appraised for about $8 million and as the overseer of the property, it’s up to him to help eliminate any threats to the land, including the beavers and the feral pigs.
“We catch and kill about 600 hogs a year,” Miller said. “We used to not see a lot of wild hogs here but it has changed over the last three years or so. The hogs breed so often that you can’t keep up with them. When we’re trapping and we miss a pregnant sow, she’s going to continue to produce.”
Strickland said feral hogs are ready for breeding at three months and can bear offspring three times in a 14 month-period.
“It’s rare to see them breed that often in the wild,” Strickland said. “Usually they will reproduce twice a year and have six to eight piglets and about four of those will survive. To put this in context, we all know we have an abundance of whitetail deer in the state. Well, deer only breed once a year and they usually only produce two offspring. The wild hogs are reproducing at four times (the rate) of the deer.”
Miller uses an Argo amphibious vehicle, which can best be described as a small tank with the top half removed, to travel into the swamps and uneven terrain in this part of the country. Miller’s snares are metal wires with a noose located in the middle placed between two trees with the noose at hog-head level. When the hog hits the snare, it releases a trigger which tightens the wire around the hog’s neck.
“Snares are the main traps we use,” Miller said. “We used to use cages but the hogs have gotten smarter and avoid them. They don’t see the snares coming. Sometime we will have about 10-12 snares out a time and you can see the woods shaking from all of the trapped hogs.”
Although the wild hogs sometimes travel solo, Miller said they usually travel in a pack ranging from eight to 30.
“The hogs usually aren’t aggressive, but they can be when wounded,” he said. “People think that when they see a wild hog it’s going to be a Russian wild boar with huge tusks charging at them, but that’s so far from the truth. A sow with a litter may be aggressive, though, but she’s only trying to protect her babies.”
Caledonia hunter Brent Lochala, who has hunted with Miller, said an encounter with a wild hog can be unnerving.
“They all look scary when you start sneaking up on them,” Lochala said.
The deeper the Argo descended into the wet bottoms, evidence that wild hogs had been in the area increased –tracks, trees that bore evidence that a hog had rubbed against it and ruts, more and more ruts.
According to Miller, the hogs sometimes nest in a thicket of cane in a swampy mud-filled slough to be closer to the mud and water. Miller pointed to what looked like an open field, an area about half the size of a football field. The field was covered with large manhole cover-sized ruts caused from hogs searching for food or “rooting.”
“Wild hogs eat everything in sight,” Miller said. “The eat worms, snakes — anything. They love acorns and when the acorns first start falling, the hogs really start moving.”
Strickland said the insatiable appetite of the wild hogs makes them a very real threat to the state’s agriculture and to nature itself.
“Hogs are destroying corn fields, soybean fields and especially peanut crops,” Strickland said. “They love to root, so peanuts are something they love since they have to root for them and dig them up. Pigs can even destroy the levees used for rice farming. They eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds and destroy their nests. They eat snakes and alligator eggs and they have even been eating the eggs of sea turtles on the barrier islands of Georgia.
“They are extremely omnivorous. They also love acorns and blackberries and persimmons and food that is a part of the natural diets of many of our native species.”