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Biologist in Kentucky working to eradicate feral hog populations
By DOUG GRAVES           
Ohio Correspondent

LEXINGTON, Ky. — According to one biologist who studies them, feral hogs are “one of the most destructive invasive species on the planet.” 
As omnivores, wild hogs (often called razorbacks or boars) eat pretty much everything. They wreak havoc on farmers’ fields and prey on vulnerable livestock, causing billions of dollars in agricultural damage each year. They’re also a nuisance to native species, displacing them with aggression and competition as they spread disease and parasites.
 Wild hogs have a vigorous reproductive potential. In favorable conditions, sows can breed as young as five to 10 months old, and are capable of producing litters of 3-8 piglets twice a year.
 Think of the wild hogs and you might think of states like Arkansas, Mississippi and even Texas. Since they were introduced to the U.S. by humans in the 1500s, either as pig pen escapees or as sport for hunters, wild hogs have been reported in at least 35 states, including Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana.
 “The Department of Fish and Wildlife is actively working to eliminate wild hogs from the state and we are making progress,” says Terri Brunjes, a biologist studying wild hogs for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
Tyler Gender, Wildlife Technician at the USDA Wildlife Service, is often bombarded with questions from people asking what the difference is between a wild, or feral hog and one that’s find on a farm.
 “Feral swine is any swine that has lived any part of its life free roaming,” Gender said. “A feral hog normally has a straight tail and an elongated snout. Domestic pigs are more slender and have a curly tail. They oftentimes have notched ears for identification.
 “Feral swine often look very similar to domestic hogs, but are generally thinner with thicker hides of coarse bristly hair and longer tusks. Because of their extensive crossbreeding, feral swine vary in color and coat pattern, including combinations of white, black, brown and red. Feral piglets are often striped or spotted, but lose this coloration as they mature. Some look like pure Russian or Eurasian wild boars, while others look more like domestic pigs.”
 “This invasive species can reach three feet in height and five feet in length,” he said. “Male boars are larger than females. Feral swine are muscular and strong, and can run up to 30 miles per hour. Like deer and domestic pigs, feral swine have cloven hooves. Another distinctive characteristic in the feral hog is its teeth. Teeth on a wild hog have long lower canine that appear as tusks, protruding from the lower mandible, and these tusks grow throughout a wild boar’s lifetime.”
 The common pig, Genders says, have smaller canine teeth.
The Bluegrass State is reportedly among the top 15 states where wild hogs are a big problem. That wild hog population is estimated to be between 1,000 and 10,000, as reported by the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program. Wild hog populations can now be found in the eastern and southwestern parts of Kentucky.
 “I believe (Kentucky’s) hogs are on the lower level of this number, closer to 1,000 to 2,000,” Brunjes said. “A population of about 600 wild hogs was removed from Henry County in 2019 after several years of work. Several additional populations have been eradicated over the years including a population in Scott County, a population in Hopkins and Muhlenberg counties and a population in Hickman, Graves and Carlisle counties.
 “The Department of Fish and Wildlife is actively working to eliminate wild hogs from the state and we are making progress. Wild hogs are one of the most destructive invasive species on the planet.” 
 According to U.S. Department of Agriculture reports, damage to natural resources can be quite widespread.
 “They consume large amounts of vegetation, destroy plants with their rooting, soil compaction, and wallowing behaviors; and in some areas, may eat or uproot protected, sensitive, unique, or rare plants. Often, the damaged land then becomes vulnerable to erosion and non-native, invasive plants,” the USDA report states.
Feral swine hurt crop yields by rummaging through farmers’ fields. If given the opportunity, they will also prey upon lambs, full-grown sheep, baby goats and calves.
 “The thing you definitely should not do is shoot at them,” says Brunjes, who says hunting fails as a tool for wild pig population control because it scatters the group and makes members harder to track down.
 The animals also reproduce too quickly for that strategy to work. Wild pigs have a rapid gestation period of only 114 days. These animals are also highly intelligent. 
 “Wild pigs are the smartest animals in the woods,” Brunjes says. “Shooting into a group of pigs may remove one or two, but it educates the rest. Wild pigs that experience hunting pressure become nocturnal, leave the area and avoid traps and all human activity.”
 The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources prefers trapping as an eradication strategy, and it’s developed an effective method for removing entire sounders. These sounders are pig families made up of females and their young. Sexually mature males will either go their own way or rove in “bachelor” groups.
 The department uses remote operated corral traps and cell cameras with live feed. These remote operated traps allows officials to determine how many pigs are in the sounder. Pigs walk into the trap, which is baited with corn. The door to the trap is closed remotely, when the whole sounder has entered. The trappers don’t have to be onsite to close the door. 
 “Indeed, they’re a smart, smart animal,” says Dr. Charles Elliot, a professor of Biological Sciences at Eastern Kentucky University. “The intelligence of the animal, and the abilities of what they can do with their tusks, their rooting behavior. If we don’t control them and control the population, they can cause some major damage.”
The Ohio Farm Bureau, in its annual meeting, adopted resolutions supporting bans on feral swine importation, release, maintenance, and recreational hunting, aiming to prevent their establishment in Ohio.
 While optimistic about containment, experts in Ohio continue to advocate for cooperation in eradicating these invasive species, emphasizing the importance of reporting sightings for swift action to prevent their proliferation.
 There are no known wild pig populations in Indiana.
 “There hasn’t been a confirmed sighting of a wild pig in the state for more than two years,” says Lee Humberg, the Indiana state director for Wildlife Services at USDA.
“As with most invasive species, they were introduced into the U.S. by humans,” Humberg said. “They grew at an alarming rate in the 1980s and 1990s, as many people wanted to establish populations of wild pigs for hunting.”
 Feral hogs are even worse in Michigan, as they’ve been spotted in 26 percent of Michigan’s 83 counties.