Hog experts detail the destructive nature of nuisance animal

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The grandeur of Mississippi would be incomplete without its majestic wildlife and bountiful landscape. But a particular animal, among the Magnolia state's wild, threatens native species, and the land in which humans and animals thrive.

In recent decades, the feral hog has become the enemy of the farmer, the game of southern hunters, and now an issue of concern among state legislators. In a pursuit to find out why, I learned a great deal about the wild hog and why it's on the state's "Nuisance Animals" list.

 When you research wild hogs, you will eventually discover an article by author Jackson Landers titled "Want to help the environment? Go shoot a pig" along with his book "Eating Aliens".

Landers grew up in a vegetarian household, not tasting a cheeseburger until he was 12. In 2005, he decided to give up factory-farmed pork. Five years later, Landers would start a 16 month adventure through the U.S. and Caribbean hunting and eating invasive species, including what he said was the most destructive invasive in the U.S., the wild hog.

Landers recalled finding first-hand accounts of how, when and where the pig was introduced to North America in histories and journals of one of the first colonies; Jamestown.

"As early as 1611 they were already bringing pigs over," said Landers.

By they, he meant explorers from all over Eurasia.

"Most were brought from England, or Scotland, some were brought from Spain, but you are basically looking at Europeans pigs," said Landers.

Landers said the reasons for their transport ranged from fresh meat for the voyage, to their deliberate release on the new land so they would multiply.

"Pigs were such a sensible species to bring for new colonists, because they are animals that can feed themselves for part of the year. They will eat scrapes that you're not going to eat otherwise. It was just a real easy type of livestock to bring along not nearly as much work to feed and provide for as cattle, especially when you don't have pastures yet," said Landers.

However, if hogs were such a necessity, a convenience even, when did they become a nuisance?

"I don't think there was a lot of awareness of the ecological problems with feral pigs until the 20th century," said Landers.

State officials became aware during the mid 20th century, according to State Representative, and Vice Chair of Wild Life, Fisheries and Parks in the House, Ken Morgan.

"They have been known to kill baby calves, sheep, goats, chickens. When they are in the woods if they find a turkey nest, or a quail nest they will bust it up and eat the eggs. They will eat baby quail, baby turkeys, baby deer," said Morgan.

According to Morgan the Magnolia states feral hogs have been threatening the existence of other species, and habitats for decades.

"The wild hog population in Mississippi probably back in the 1950s consisted of what we call the Piney Wood Rooter," said Morgan.

Morgan said they're a smaller version of the feral hog, and they weren't much of sport for those looking for exciting game.

"Larger land owners, thought it would be feasible to maybe get some Russian boars and turn them loose on their property, and now we have feral hogs that grow in excessive of 500 pounds,' said Morgan.

A female hog, not even a year old, can produce two litters, of as many as ten pigs, a year. With a survival rate of five to ten years, they can and will wreak havoc on vital resources.

"Agriculture, forestry, ponds, landscapes, and all, Mississippi has damage from wild hogs that escalate to over 1.5 billion dollar a year," said Morgan.

Morgan added Senate and House committee hearings over the past year, have revealed some alarming data. In 2009, the wild hog population covered 38 percent of Mississippi. The population is estimated to be 75 to 100 percent by 2023, according to data from Mississippi State University Center for Resolving Human-Wildlife Conflicts.

This is where the law makers come in, declaring it open season on wild hogs.

"Anytime, anywhere, day or night, any weapon," Morgan added.

Prospect Community resident and owner of Red Oaks Farms, Van Hensarling, said that suits him just fine.  

"In the last few years we have began to see them show up," said Hensarling.

Hensarling says sightings on his 24-hundred acre property are rare, but he can't take any chances. His livelihood is 80 percent of the wild hog's diet.

"Cotton, peanuts, corn," Hensarling added.

He said it's like catering to the hog. 700 acres of his land is devoted to peanuts, one thousand to cotton, and the rest to corn. That's why he was more than happy to escort us on a night hunt for wild hogs.