Unstoppable boar, boar, more boar everywhere
Wild pigs, the unstoppable boar ancestors of our domestic pink pigs, are not native to the Americas, north and south. They came on ships together with the first settlers from Europe as food and to be kept as valuable livestock. Back in the early days, pigs were often free roaming during the summer months, rounded up, and brought back home before winter.
Inevitably, some of the unstoppable boar avoided being rounded up and remained to continue to live free in the woods. These smartest of the smart feral pigs established breeding populations, mingled with domestic hogs when possible for mating, and began to thrive in the most inaccessible habitats they could find.
All the resilient boar need is a reliable source of water, predictable food sources, and a safe place to rest and to hide. The wild hogs take care of the rest, that is reproduction and maintaining a healthy and stable population.
In fact, the wild pigs are very adaptable to numerous diverse environments, experts in exploiting what a habitat has to offer with regard to food and survival essentials, and most skilled in adjusting to almost any change.
Most importantly, the unstoppable boar are very, very smart. They are considered by wildlife experts to be among the four smartest mammals. They are capable of learning from past experience. And wild pigs pass on this knowledge to new generations of wild pigs and, under the guidance of the alpha sow in the sounder, adjust the reproductive output of the sounder members to offset any unusual losses.
Altogether these qualities make wild boar one of the most wide-spread mammals living almost anywhere (except for the antarctic), thriving even under marginal conditions, and expanding its numbers and range steadily.
Yet, there is a dark side to unstoppable boar. Most importantly, since wild pigs are not indigenous to the Americas, they do not have any serious predators. And the few that might take on boar have been eliminated by humans to protect livestock or have been simply hunted to extinction.
But don’t hold your breath, hunting alone will not make a big dent into feral pig populations in the United States. Neither will any method used until today. Neither traps capturing boar for slaughter and human consumption nor shooting the animals from helicopters have made a big difference. And poisoning, the favorite method of financially motivated population controllers, poses grave dangers to other wildlife and to the environment.
Texas is teeming with wild hogs, mainly on ranches that feed them and offer shelter to keep them on the ranch as a natural resource for hunters who pay for shooting a ‘wild pig’. They will continue to thrive even when other boar populations are eradicated by other, often controversial, eradication methods. These ranches are safe havens for boar that eventually can venture out to fill abandoned habitats again.
Today, almost all states of the U.S. have wild pigs. They are also at home in Mexico and now also establishing solid footholds in Canada which they use to invade new territory.
In March 2019, the Canadian Billings Gazette, for example, reported under the title “ Feral swine amass at Montana’s northern border” about a wild pig population that is ready to strike out into new territory. Photos show wild hogs only five miles from the border with Montana. It is a matter of time alone when they will have wandered into this state to use its resources for their benefit.
A study of wild pig populations in Saskatchewan published by the University of Saskatchewan followed boar populations over the past 27 years.
According to this study, during the past decade, the unstoppable boar have expanded their territory by 5,400 square miles a year in Canada. They now range 46,000 square miles over the Canadian prairie provinces alone.
The authors of the study found an overall annual growth rate of 9% across Canada. Feral pig populations are certainly expanding at higher rates in U.S. states with established wild hog populations such as Texas, some traditional southeastern states, and California.
With more unstoppable boar roaming the country, the incidents of damage to agriculture and the environment, the danger of transmission of viruses, bacteria, and parasites from wild boar to humans increase significantly.
At least, 89 bacterial, viral, and parasitic diseases are known that can be transferred from wild boar to humans.
More wild pigs translate into more damage caused by this invasive species and, believe it or not, even the number of attacks on humans when a boar is cornered, injured or in defense of piglets goes up.
Nevertheless, wild hogs will avoid humans whenever possible absent surprise, defense of young, and when injured, Their superb sense of smell alerts them to a hunter’s presence miles away. Inexperienced hunters may never even see them.
Surprise encounters happen often in late winter and spring when the boar congregate to forage on new growth (grasses and forbs) and in fall during the mast nut season when the pigs fatten up on mast for the winter.
Contrary to their wild cousins, feral pigs can have more than one litter per year. Females also start to reproduce as young as at about six to about nine months. The ferals do not have distinctive mating seasons but are rather following a regular cycle of about 20 days monthly. Therefore, pregnancy and the birth of piglets can occur almost any time of the year. Births tend, however, to peak in spring and fall.
The piglets stay close to their mother for several months, actually up to one year. So, there is always a chance that one of the sows leads a litter of piglets. As soon as the piglets are weaned and have become part of the sounder, the sow will start her reproductive cycle again.
Male boar stimulate the sow by following her, pursuing her, and sniffing her to start her cycling as soon as possible. Several males may be engaged in this behavior. And fight with each other over the privilege to mate with her.
Except, maybe, after July because feral hogs tend to slow their reproductive cycle in July to avoid having to care for piglets during the hottest months of the year.
Beware of an unstoppable boar and her litter
Sows are very protective of their piglets. The worst any human can do is to come between a sow and her young. Sows give no mercy unless you retreat slowly and cautiously keeping your eyes on the nearest tree to climb.
Even very small piglets can, and will, throw temper tantrums and punitive attacks when enraged. Watch this video. It is educational and funny at the same time:
Unless you are a boar hunter and know what you are doing, be careful this time of the year when you find new growth, grasses, forbs, brush where wild hogs tend to forage now. During the hot summer months and when wild growing food is rare, the unstoppable boar will raid agricultural areas and groomed landscape. These areas tend to be irrigated, have nice moist, soft soil with plenty of invertebrates in the ground. Pigs can smell them up to a depth of around 3 feet and will happily dig to get to them.
Property owners and golf course caretakers are not happy about that porcine activity. But, hey, wild pigs need to eat – a lot and rather indiscriminately.
To avoid unwanted interaction with wild pigs, stay on human trails and paths. Pigs will avoid them whenever possible. And leave piglets alone should you encounter some. The mother will be around and make a surprise appearance when you least expect it.
During summer water becomes a vital life-sustaining ingredient for the boar. They visit it early in the morning and late in the afternoon unless they have become nocturnal because of hunting pressure. And they while away countless hours in their mud wallows to keep cool and free of biting insects.
How about intercepting them on their way to and from water sources and mud wallows?