Battling the feral hog problem

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Feral swine do more than $1.5 billion a year in damage around the country, and scientists are taking what could be a big step toward controlling them.

They are field-testing poison baits made from a preservative that’s used to cure bacon and sausage.

The tests will cover two major habitats where feral hogs are common during seasons when they’re most likely to go for bait, said Kurt VerCauteren, feral swine project leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services.

Tests will start early in 2018 in dry west Texas and continue in humid central Alabama around midsummer.

The bait Vercauteren is working on uses the meat preservative sodium nitrite. It can keep an animal’s red blood cells from pulling in oxygen. Pigs make very low levels of an enzyme that counteracts it, so it’s more deadly to them than to humans or most domestic animals. Swine that gobble up enough sodium nitrite show symptoms similar to carbon dioxide poisoning: They become uncoordinated, lose consciousness and die within 90 minutes after eating it.

The prospect of a new way to fight the beasts is good news to Samuel “Sammy” Williams, who farms about 2,000 acres (3,220 hectares) of cotton, corn and peanuts in Alabama near Georgia and Florida.

Williams said he’s killed nearly 200 feral hogs a year for the past four years, but those that survived still damaged his crops. Swine love corn and peanuts and will root up cotton fields for weed tubers, he said. They also make “wallow holes” 4 to 6 feet (1.2 to 1.8 meters) across — though communal wallows can be much bigger.

“I saw one 20 to 25 feet (6 to 8 meters) across, and the hogs had knocked down a couple acres of corn right around that hole,” he said.

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