September 19, 2020

Feral super-hogs are spreading through the frozen north by living in ‘pigloos’

Climate change is helping feral pigs spread north, but they are also adapting to the cold by living inside 'pigloos.'

Feral hogs have been in the New World since at least the 16th century, when Spanish explorer, Hernando De Soto, arrived with swine. In the 1900s, the Eurasian or Russian wild boar was introduced to the country for sport hunting.

Since then, the invasive swine have expanded their ranges and spread like a contagion, wreaking havoc on ecosystems. They have expanded to 38 states in three decades. Now, they are thriving in the cold north and invading from Canada.

Across the American South, particularly in Texas, feral hogs are so numerous and destructive that it has become routine to hunt them from aircraft. Unfortunately, gunning pigs from helicopters with semiautomatic weapons year-round hasn’t stopped the pigs, and part of the reason: hunters contribute to spreading the population.

The hunters distribute the pigs so there are more animals to hunt. Experts suspect that hunters are carrying pigs in trucks to release them into new areas for ‘sport.’

Soon, the pigs adapt to the hunters: they scatter and become warier, thus dispersing family groups across more extensive territories. As another survival strategy, the wild boars start to become nocturnal, only venturing out at night when it is safer.

Now, after years of interbreeding with domestic pigs and evolution, feral pigs are learning to live in colder climates. According to a New York Times article, the pigs are poised to invade the northern states along the Canada border in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Pigloos in Canada?

“Many experts thought the pigs couldn’t thrive in cold climates. But they burrow into the snow in winter, creating so-called pigloos — a tunnel or cave with a foot or two of snow on top for insulation. Many have developed thick coats of fur.
Now they are poised to invade states along the border, threatening to establish a new beachhead in this country,” writes Jim Robbins.

Hidden inside their pigloos, hunters can’t spot the pigs from the air.

Although one might be tempted to find the pig pigloo invasion humorous, these pigs are no laughing matter. First of all, they can weigh as much as 800 pounds, produce over a dozen piglets twice a year, and devastate the environment.

Dale Nolte, manager of the feral swine program at the Department of Agriculture, estimates the damage is costing the U.S. billions.

“‘Why the worry? The harm caused by snuffling, gobbling wild hogs is the stuff of legend. The damage in the United States is estimated to be $1.5 billion annually, but likely closer to $2.5 billion,’ Dr. Nolte said.”

In the state of Montana, the state’s Invasive Species Council has announced the “Squeal on Pigs” program. Residents are encouraged to report sightings of feral hogs as they attempt to eradicate populations. However, they seem to be fighting a losing battle.

As they move, the wild hogs tear up plants by the roots and destroy human-made structures like fences. As with domesticated pigs, they also pollute waterways as they eat everything in sight, including endangered animals and their eggs or babies. They have been known to eat it all, from baby fawns to full-grown-deer.

Smithsonian magazine noted:

“[Feral hogs] prey on everything from rodents, to deer, to endangered loggerhead sea turtles, threatening to reduce the diversity of native species. They disrupt habitats. They damage archaeological sites. They are capable of transmitting diseases to domestic animals and humans. In November, a woman died in Texas after being attacked by feral hogs—a very rare, but not unprecedented occurrence.”

The pigs can spread 32 diseases and are blamed for E.coli outbreaks after they wander into fields where lettuce is grown. However, a much bigger threat is looming.

Feral pigs could shut down the entire livestock industry.

“If an animal disease like African swine fever or hoof-and-mouth gets into these animals, it will be almost impossible to stop,” said Dr. William Karesh, a veterinarian who works for EcoHealth Alliance, an organization that studies animal disease. “It will shut down our livestock industry.”

Alarmingly, the species is so invasive that every county in America could have feral pigs within 30-50 years. The problem is worsened by climate change.

Facts from Smithsonian:

“As Mary Bates reported for PLOS Blogs in 2017, research has shown that feral pigs are moving northwards at an accelerated rate. “If this trend persists, invasive wild pigs are predicted to reach most U.S. counties in 30-50 years,” Bates explained, “but likely faster if a southward expansion from Canada continues.”

“…as Bates of PLOS Blogs reports, mild winters caused by climate change may make it easier for the pigs to find food as they move north.”

Considering all this, it appears few animals are more destructive to the environment than are pigs. However, we would have to leave top honors to humans, who have managed to drive climate change as well as introduce wild pigs, to begin with. Now it looks like humans must adapt to the unpredictable climate as well as rampaging wild super-pigs that seem to adapt to just about anything.

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