The big question among wildlife managers who come in contact with wild pigs is "How do we control them?"
Answering this question was the focus of the 2018 International Wild Pig Conference's Technical Training Day, which was organized by the Noble Research Institute and held at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma, on April 16.
An open field that just hours before had been dotted with American bison and wild turkey had transformed into demonstration grounds featuring about 15 different wild pig control methods.
The training day brought in experts with as many as 20-plus years of wild pig trapping experience to share their thoughts and various concepts – ranging from primitive to high-tech. In attendance were about 120 wildlife professionals from across the U.S. as well as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Germany and Mexico.
While each country offers its own unique perspective to the wild pig problem, each participant shared a common goal – to manage rapidly increasing and expanding wild pig populations.
Wild pigs, also known as feral hogs, are not native to North America or Australia. The invasive species destroys native ecosystems, poses health risks to both humans and other animals, and wreaks havoc in crop fields and pastures. They cost the U.S. up to $1.5 billion each year, an estimate that is expected to be updated soon to $2.5 billion.
By the end of the day, the final answer for the ultimate question became clear: There is no one answer on how to control wild pigs. There are many tools available, and each has its place. Often, it takes more than one tool to effectively control wild pig populations. You can't forget about best practices, most importantly prebaiting. And it takes some practice, trial and error, and your own ingenuity to make the tools work best for you.
Before you go hog wild trying to eradicate wild pigs, understand your situation so that you can decide which methods will be most effective for you.
Your answers to these questions will play into which methods you choose. What might work for us here in the southern U.S. may not work as well in Australia, where cell service is generally not as accessible, or in Canada, where wild pig population densities and terrain are different.
It is also important to understand the legal requirements for both control methods and what to do with hogs once you've trapped them.
Dr. Justin Roach, Oklahoma's state veterinarian, was on hand to discuss some of the rules for Oklahoma, which can be found in their complete form online.
In Oklahoma, you can (with some exceptions) transport live feral hogs to a licensed sporting facility, licensed handling facility or an approved slaughter plant. But first, you'll need to go online and obtain a $25 license. It's quick and easy but necessary to ensure feral hogs are going from the woods to a facility rather than escaping again, Roach says.
Four main areas of control methods were discussed during the training day:
Each system has varying levels of cost and convenience associated. The following is some of the information and advice shared by the experts.
Snares are about as primitive as you'll get, says Josh Candelaria with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Service. But they can be useful in situations where you've successfully trapped most of a sounder and need to catch the remaining few. Candelaria uses an 8-foot cable, 1/8-inch in diameter, and rigs it up about 4-6 inches off the ground or higher if he knows he's hunting a big boar.
The idea behind the Judas method is to trap a wild pig (or more than one), attach a GPS collar to it and allow it to lead you to other pigs. The method has been used successfully on islands with small populations of feral sheep or goats, says Jim Beasley, Ph.D., from the University of Georgia. But it can be expensive and labor intensive, especially if you're tracking pigs through the woods, where you may never be able to actually see the pigs. Beasley says this would not be an ideal way to control large groups of wild pigs, but it could be helpful with low-density populations.
A Noble Research Institute study found drop-nets to be successful in catching 86 percent of the identifiable pigs in an area. This is a big advantage, however you have to be nearby to activate the trap. It also takes more time, and ideally people, to set the system up and to remove trapped pigs compared to other methods.
Corral traps are a popular choice in Oklahoma as innovations in portability have made them easier to set up and move. There are various sizes and styles available through different companies. They can be animal-activated or human-activated, depending on the level of technology (i.e., cameras and deployment systems) used with them. A Noble Research Institute study found corral traps capture 49 percent of the identifiable population.
BoarBuster is the only suspended trap on the market. It combines the benefits of both drop-nets and corral traps to create a suspended corral trap that can be deployed remotely. You can observe and drop the trap from anywhere with an internet connection. The trap was developed based on research from the Noble Research Institute, which ultimately found this new style captures 88 percent of the identifiable wild pigs in a given area.
Other advanced traps integrate features from the various trapping systems. You can find cameras and deployment mechanisms to add many of the basic traps. Technologies like this are helpful, but a major drawback is that they typically need cellular data, which isn't always available in areas with wild pig problems.
Some wildlife managers are taking hog control to the sky with aerial gunning, typically by helicopter. This is a method used by both government and private contractors. While it might be the most expensive method up-front, it could be the most cost-effective on a large-scale when all the pieces (including weather and mechanics) come together, according to Scott Alls, assistant state wildlife services director for Oklahoma. The pilot and gunner can cover about a thousand acres per hour. The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge began using this method in 2015. It's also used by the refuge's neighbor, Fort Sill Military Reservation.
Toxicants are an emerging area of wild pig control that continues to be researched. Products are slowly coming to market in Australia and in the U.S. The major concern, and a focus of research, is reducing risk of poisoning to other animals, known as non-target species. As always, you'll need to make sure to read and follow all label instructions. New, species-specific feeders are also now available on the market, which could help ensure only wild pigs have access to the toxicant. These feeders use cameras and a computer to identify approaching animals or are mechanically built to only be accessible by one species.