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ENEMY NO. 1 Feral hogs control an uphill battle By Gail Banzet-Ellis I


n the darkness of night and the light of day, a terrorizing beast prowls Oklahoma’s rural landscape, ravaging all that lies in its path. Its gro- tesque appearance resembles that of a domestic swine Frankenstein. Standing as tall as 3 feet high and weighing up to 300 pounds, this


burley, wild-eyed creature leaves behind the distinctive mark of a feral hog. Landowners are desperate to combat the statewide pest as Oklahoma’s wild hog population rages out of control.


A Call for Help At The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Okla., wildlife and range specialists work alongside ag researchers to provide technical sup- port to landowners. Wildlife and range consultant Josh Gaskamp says much of the organization’s research focuses on alternative control techniques for capturing feral hogs. “We noticed a lot of the conventional traps available on the market today were not very effective,” he says. “Once you catch the dumb ones, the smart ones continue breeding.” Offi cials at the Noble Foundation say feral hogs are a real threat to wildlife species and affect every discipline of agriculture. Hogs contaminate water sources, pose disease threats to livestock and cause economic burdens for crop growers. Gaskamp and his peers capture around 600 hogs per year while mitigating damage to the Noble Foundation’s research projects, wheat pas- tures and pecan orchards. He says Love County (where the foundation is located) has one of the highest densities of feral hogs in the state, and numbers continue to climb. “Hogs have huge reproductive potential with up to two litters per year,”


he says. “They can have up to 15 piglets per litter, and those babies can breed in six to eight months.”


Population Control


Contrary to common theory, hunting feral hogs isn’t the most effective method for reducing populations, according to the Noble Foundation. Gaskamp says hunting, spotlighting and running specially trained dogs are strictly hobbies and cannot reduce overwhelming statewide numbers now estimated between 500,000 and 1 million. “Let’s face it—when you have 20 pigs out there and you shoot at those pigs, the animals hear that fi rst shot, whether you’re using silencers or not, and scatter,” Gaskamp says. “The opportunity to harvest additional hogs


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after that fi rst shot is very slim.” The Noble Foundation’s research shows trapping works best, but that method also poses challenges. Many conventional traps require hogs to walk through narrow openings or thresholds that can’t fool the unruly beasts. “They’re very smart and learn quickly what a trap is,” Gaskamp says.


“That’s what led us at the Noble Foundation to look at non-conventional trapping methods.” New and innovative products developed at the foundation include the BoarBuster system, combining the concept of a corral trap with drop nets. Gaskamp says aerial hunting from helicopters conducted by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (ODAFF) also can signifi - cantly reduce numbers, but no solution is 100 percent effective without full cooperation from landowners. “Sharing traps and helping each other trap is the only way we’ll be able to get a handle on feral hogs in the state,” he says. Kevin Grant, director of the ODAFF’s wildlife services division, also re- ceives a high volume of calls and complaints. “I remember when hogs and hog damage were a novelty, but feral swine are the most prolifi c mammals on the planet,” he said. “Capturing them has to be an orchestrated effort or the hogs will fi gure it out. Everybody wants that magic silver bullet, but we don’t have the resources to completely ex- tricate feral swine from Oklahoma.”


Health Precautions From stripping rows of corn to grazing wheat fi elds, feral hogs can cost


Oklahoma’s agricultural economy thousands of dollars each year, but the ODAFF also warns of possible health risks to livestock and humans. Swine brucellosis was completely eradicated from commercial swine in the 1990s, but ODAFF staff veterinarian Justin Roach says feral hogs are a reservoir for the disease. About 15 percent of feral swine carry brucellosis, which can cause reproductive loss in domestic pigs.


“Biosecurity is so strong with commercial producers in indoor facilities, but for those who raise swine outdoors, it’s important to build appropriate fencing to prevent exposure,” Roach says. Hunters and processors who slaughter wild hogs without following certain


safety precautions also are at risk for swine brucellosis. Known as undulant fever in humans, the disease induces fl u-like symptoms and is sometimes hard to treat.


“If you’re cleaning hogs, you need to use gloves, avoid bodily fl uids, wash your hands and wear a face mask or protective eye gear,” Roach says.


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