Research goes whole-hog into feral swine problem

By Jonathan Veit

Feral hogWhen Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto rowed ashore near present-day Tampa in 1540, he hauled along a drove of pigs as a gift to Native American chiefs.

Today, de Soto’s offer of succulent swine has turned curse as feral hogs are overrunning the Southeastern states.

“Studies show that invasive feral hogs cause an estimated $120 billion per year of economic damage in the United States, but we have almost no data on the economic or ecological damage they are causing in South Carolina,” said Kate McFadden, a Clemson wildlife ecologist.

McFadden and a team of Clemson researchers are surveying landowners to quantify the amount of damage and determine what counties are hardest hit.

They’re collaborating with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, USDA Wildlife Service and South Carolina Farm Bureau to help craft effective management strategies and educate farmers and landowners about the pests.

“Feral hogs are the No. 1 wildlife problem facing the state of South Carolina,” said Marion Barnes, senior Clemson Extension agent for Colleton and Hampton counties. “In addition to the tremendous amount of damage they are causing crops and timber, they are also turning up in urban and suburban neighborhoods throughout South Carolina and the Southeast.”

Researchers are working with selected landowners in feral hog “hotspots” to implement and test the effectiveness of a remote infrared-triggered camera and trap system.

The idea is to enhance the ability to detect and monitor feral hogs and assess damage. Clemson students already have tested the camera trap system in the university’s experimental forest.

Landowners also can report wild hog sightings through Extension’s South Carolina Wild Hog Task Force website.

The study will be among the first to assess both economic and ecological damage, such as the spread of disease and destruction of habitat for other wildlife.

“It’s a yearly battle,” said Allendale County farmer Mark Connelly. “One year I planted 93 acres of corn on a Saturday. By Wednesday night, the hogs had covered the whole field.”

Trapping followed by euthanasia is the conventional method of management, but there is debate about which baits, trap designs and strategies are most effective.

McFadden said that hogs’ early age of sexual maturity, ability to breed multiple times per year, large litter sizes and long life span means that more must be done to control their numbers.

Learn more about the South Carolina Wild Hog Task Force: