Study to assess wild hogs in Pa.

By Jeff
Mulhollem
Editor

University Park, Pa. — State, federal and private groups are
collaborating to assess the seriousness of Pennsylvania’s wild hog
situation this fall.

Starting in November, a team from the Wildlife Services Division
of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health
Inspection Service will collect feral hogs in three areas of the
state by trapping and shooting, and Pennsylvania Department of
Agriculture technicians will remove blood and tissue samples from
the animals to be tested for infectious diseases.

The effort is being funded by $60,000 in grants from the USDA
and the Pennsylvania Pork Producers Council.

Samples will be tested by the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostics
Laboratory System, which includes labs at the Pennsylvania
Department of Agriculture in Harrisburg, at Penn State’s University
Park campus and at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton
Center.

In light of a recently released Pennsylvania Game Commission
report documenting wild hogs living in 11 counties – and breeding
in at least two of those – along with past evidence that they
existed in four other counties, the state is at a crossroads with
feral pigs, according to Dave Wolfgang, extension veterinarian in
Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

“We have been concerned for some time about the situation
surrounding feral pigs in Pennsylvania,” he said. “There is clear
evidence that their population is growing, and if something is not
done soon, we could have a situation similar to the one in Southern
states, where habitat destruction by wild hogs is a huge
problem.”

Earlier this year, a Pennsylvania Feral Hog Task Force was
formed that included, besides the state and federal departments of
Agriculture, PennAg Industries Association, the Game Commission,
Penn State, the Pennsylvania Audubon Society and the Pork Producers
Council.

“The reason Pennsylvania’s pork producers are so concerned about
feral pigs is that they are reservoirs for diseases such as
pseudorabies, swine brucellosis and trichinosis,” Wolfgang
explained. “Our animal agriculture people have worked hard to stamp
out those diseases, but they could be reintroduced into domestic
herds from wild pigs.”

Some of these animal-health issues have implications for people,
too. “Brucellosis makes pigs sick, but it can infect hunters
dressing pigs,” Wolfgang said. “These diseases are not much of a
problem with commercial pork. One of the reasons we raise pork
indoors in barns now is that when the pigs are outside grubbing
around in dirt, they pick up parasites and diseases.”

Ironically, one of the worries for wildlife officials is that
Pennsylvania hunters will learn to like having wild pigs around.
“In Florida, wild hogs are the number one game species,” said
Harris Glass, state director of USDA Wildlife Services in
Harrisburg. “They sell more licenses for hunting hogs than they do
for deer. In the South, there is a whole culture built around hog
hunting.

“If we get to that point in Pennsylvania, we are just not going
to be able to stop it,” Glass added. “Hog hunting is not really
known here, but I grew up in Texas and down there on the hunting
preserves, it was always if you harvest a deer, you could go ahead
and take a pig to go along with it. They are so numerous. I spent
the last four years in Mississippi, and a lot of the folks down
there enjoy running pigs with their dogs.”

But where wild hogs are concerned, the tradeoffs for having
another big game species are just not worth it, Glass said. In
Southern states, about half of the feral hogs tested have been
positive for brucellosis and pseudorabies. “This is really a
biosecurity issue,” he said. “And wild hogs are so detrimental to
the habitat. It would be really devastating to wildlife if these
animals become established across Pennsylvania.

“In Texas, for example, damages caused by wild hogs run in the
millions of dollars annually, and USDA has had to resort to aerial
gunning to control the population.”

What we don’t need is another invasive species destroying
habitat that our native wildlife needs and depends on, Wolfgang
said. “Feral hogs present danger to both Pennsylvania wildlife and
livestock,” he said.

“Damage caused by these animals includes erosion from
displacement of soil and native plant root structures, consumption
and destruction of crops and predation of livestock – such as
lambs, kid goats and calves – and ground-nesting birds,” he
said.

The task force’s early efforts are officially called “disease
surveillance,” and it is not clear what efforts might be made to
eliminate feral pigs if disease is prevalent in tested animals. One
of the factors complicating the control of wild hogs in
Pennsylvania is that none of the regulatory agencies has statutory
responsibility over them, Glass noted.

“They are not considered a game species here,” he said. “That’s
why the Game Commission is not responsible. Right now the hogs
don’t fall under the classification of wildlife, and it would take
legislation to designate them wildlife.”

Feral swine found in Pennsylvania are native to Europe and Asia
and most have escaped from shooting preserves, according to the
Game Commission. They can weigh more than 400 pounds, and sows can
breed up to twice a year, producing from four to 13 piglets per
litter.

“It is very difficult to build a fence that can keep wild hogs
in,” Glass noted.

Although the hunting of wild hogs in Pennsylvania is unregulated
– meaning that there is no bag limit and they can be killed 365
days a year – Game Commis-sion spokesman Jerry Feaser urges hunters
to act safely.

“Be sure you have permission of the landowner to hunt, and be
certain the swine is wild and not domestic,” he said. “We strongly
recommend that wild-hog hunters wear fluorescent orange and abide
by the rules that are in effect for any game species that are in
season – but we can’t require it.”

From the PGC feral hog report:

n Feral swine are omnivorous, but mast makes up a large part of
their diet, when it is available. Where feral swine are found,
their consumption of acorns reduces the amount left for deer,
turkeys, and other native species.

  • Hogs killing wild turkeys and destroying their nest sites may
    be a growing problem.
  • Reports of free-ranging feral swine were first documented in
    Somerset County in 1993.
  • Feral swine are intelligent and highly adaptive. For example,
    crop depredation may cease in an area after a few swine are removed
    – not because the swine are removed but because they adapt and move
    to another farm or area to feed.
  • Reports of not only sightings and harvestings, but also of
    damage have been documented. In Cambria County, one resident
    reported $2,000 in yard damage in 2002.
  • Four swine chased a woman on a golf cart in Carbon County in
    2004, and in Perry County in 2005, feral swine were reported to be
    a nuisance and dangerous – a school bus almost hit one.
  • The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture tested two feral
    swine from the northeast region for diseases in 2003-04;
    pseudorabies and brucellosis were not detected.
  • In Pennsylvania, there are currently no regulations regarding
    the escape/release of feral swine. The Pennsylvania Domestic Animal
    Act does provide the ability to create such a regulation.
  • Creating regulations on fencing requirements for feral swine in
    captivity in hunting preserves may help prevent escapes.
  • Swine brucellosis is a fatal human disease, which can be
    transmitted to domestic swine and cattle through exposure to
    infected afterbirth. Humans can acquire the disease by handling
    infected swine tissue.
  • The Game Commission and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
    know about many, but not all, of the shooting preserves with wild
    boars in Pennsylvania.
  • The economic value of feral swine at shooting preserves and the
    limited number of feral swine suppliers have increased their value
    on the market. This demand for feral swine may increase the risk of
    disease-carrying feral swine being brought into Pennsylvania.
  • One recommendation to prevent further problems is to require
    all shooting preserves to have a permit. This permit would only
    allow the importation of disease-free feral swine and also require
    health testing of all shooting preserve mortalities.
  • Regulations should also be established making the
    escape/release of feral swine illegal and to regulate the housing
    and fencing requirements for maintaining feral swine in
    captivity.

Jeff
Mulhollem

Categories: News Archive

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