Hordes of “super pigs” are running amok in Canada, and may soon spill across the border into the northern U.S.
These wild feral pigs, which roam Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada, are predicted to be moving southwards into Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana.
What makes these pigs such a threat is that they are a result of crossbreeding between wild Eurasian boars and domestic swine. The animals combine the boar’s environmental resistance and the pig’s size and fertility to create a rapidly reproducing population that is very hard to eradicate.
The U.S. has already started to be invaded by these feral pigs, with around 6 million of the swine having entered at least 35 states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Now, however, the Canadian populations may descend from the north.
“Hybrid populations of wild pigs are not a new issue in the U.S. Generally resulting from the interbreeding of domestic swine and introduced Eurasian wild boar for hunting purposes, hybrid wild-pig populations in the States have the larger size and reproductive rates of domestic swine and the hardiness of wild boar,” Elizabeth A. Bradley told Newsweek. She is a researcher at Auburn University’s College of Forestry, Wildlife, and Environment in Alabama.
“This is part of what facilitates the negative impacts of this invasive species on natural ecosystems and agricultural production,” Bradley said.
These pigs are considered an invasive species due to the level of damage they can cause: they tear up farmland, rooting for bugs and eating plants, destroying crops and disrupting local wildlife. In southern U.S. states including Texas, these wild pigs already cause billions of dollars in damage to croplands every year. They can also spread diseases to domestic pigs at farms, including African swine fever, and have even been known to attack humans, though this is infrequent.
“The impact of wildlife on our populations is a fact in general. In the last few years, the numbers of feral pigs and wild boar increase more and more,” Domenico Fulgione, a professor of population ecology at University of Naples Federico II in Italy, told Newsweek.
“The United States of America has spent more than $1.5 billion every year because of the damage caused by feral hogs, the hybrid form that lives in their territories. The most-important issues are down to the depression of biodiversity; wild pigs destroy the undergrowth of many forests, alter the soils, and prey on many species of ground-nesting birds, as well as reptiles, amphibians and plants of various species, even rare ones.
“Damage is also caused to farms because of rooting. They crash into our cars, and also epidemics are a consequence of their big populations,” Fulgione added.
These pig hybrids also reproduce very quickly, having up to six piglets in a litter, of which they can have two in a single year. The population of swine is so fecund that, even if 65 percent of the pigs were killed every year, the total number would still rise.
The presence of these pigs could significantly disrupt native ecosystems, and have knock-on effects all across the food chain.
“In Europe, for example, due to a considerable increase in wild boars, we have observed a significant increase of its predators, the wolves, but an increase also in some types of scavengers such as jackals. Even predators, if in large numbers, are difficult to manage and make compatible with agriculture and animal husbandry,” Fulgione said.
“Furthermore, an effect on the populations of human hunters should not be overlooked, which will inevitably increase the food consumption of meat that is not always carefully and meticulously analyzed by health professionals. The transmission of diseases by parasites that also infest humans is sometimes directly proportional to the increase of these host animals and their reckless consumption,” Fulgione added.
The USDA is attempting to keep the Canadian pigs out of the U.S., using aircraft and drones to patrol the border. Experts are considering ways to wipe out the pigs, as hunting is unsuccessful. It often results in no more than 2 or 3 percent of the animals being culled, and makes them more wary and nocturnal, and therefore harder to track down.
Some suggestions for controlling the population include large ground traps, net guns fired from helicopters, or even poison, but this risks harming other native wildlife.
“We can’t forget that they are complex animals. Looking at their habits, we understood that they are skilled in pre-adapting to the environments they are going to invade,” Fulgione said.
“Hogs must be studied before defining a common strategy that must be shared between states. Killing? Traps? It depends both on environmental and social variables. The interaction with our species is very close, and management has to deal with this element.”
What you can do
Help to save wildlife by donating as little as $1 – It only takes a minute.
This article by Jess Thomson was first published by Newsweek on 24 November 2023. Lead Image: A herd of wild boars. Feral pigs in Canada may be about to move south of the border into the U.S. ISTOCK / GETTY IMAGES PLUS.