If you live in the South, and a quickly growing number of other regions, there is a nuisance animal that is almost impossible to ignore.
According to a 2020 report by Texas Parks & Wildlife, the population of wild hogs in the United States grew from 2.4 million to 6.9 million, just between 1982 and 2016. It continues to grow at high rates (18-21% per year) due to a “high reproduction rate, generalist diet, and lack of natural predators.” In the same time frame, feral hogs have expanded their range from 18 states to 35.
The same report cites a 2007 study done by the USDA which concluded that each wild hog has an annual control and damage cost of $300, putting the estimated total amount at $1.5 billion per year. Assuming the cost per hog remained constant, and taking into account the stated growth rate, the current population sits around 10 million with an annual cost of approximately $3 billion.
So how did this problem get so big?
Quite simply, they are not native to North America and their ability to consume almost any food source, coupled with their ability to survive in a wide range of environments, plus a real lack of natural predators, has allowed their population to grow relatively unchecked since their arrival.
While humans have tried to implement control methods, like trapping, hunting, and “aerial gunning” (AKA shooting them from helicopters), these methods been ineffective at controlling populations at scale and prove to only be limitedly effective in controlled, small environments.
As the Texas report concludes:
“The need for novel methods of wild pig population control is obvious.”
But how did the hogs get here in the first place?
The first introduction of swine to North America came when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492, landing in The Bahamas with some pigs, per the request of Queen Isabella.
But what is now the United States remained hog free until Hernando DeSoto landed in Tampa, FL in 1539.
The hogs were used for food and to trade with the local natives, who grew quite fond of the taste, and can you blame them? The first one to try bacon must have fallen over…
Those original hogs brought to Tampa are the ancestors of the modern day population that is wrecking havoc on farmers and land owners across the nation, so just how many did they bring over that spurred all this?
Was it boat loads? Multiple ships carrying nothing but ravenous pigs, ready to make this their land of opportunity?
Not even close.
Hernando DeSoto brought just 13 pigs to America.
No, that is not a typo. Thirteen. One three.
It turns out that hogs do not require the same genetic variability as other species to grow stably, and when DeSoto died just 3 years later the population had grown to 700, which did not account for those that had been eaten, escaped to the wild (the true ancestors), or had been given to the natives in trade or gifts.
That is absolutely astounding. Chances are the people had eaten hundreds, if not thousands over the years, showing the true explosive power of the herd.
From there it didn’t take long for the hogs to spread far and wide, both through natural progressions while looking for habitat, and as more humans brought them along for expeditions.
Wild. Just wild….
So the next time your garden or farm land gets turned up by some of these pests, you can thank the original 13 for their contributions.
I wonder if hogs honor them as colonies who broke free and started their own thing…