By any other name wild pigs found across more than 40 states in the United States are, well, pigs. Sus scrofa to be exact. That is the Latin name for the pigs in North America whether they are found in a pen on a farm or running across pastures sucking down every ounce of corn put out by farmers or hunters.
Everyone knows that wild pigs are a pain whether you farm, ranch or hunt, but that does not keep us from romanticizing about there being one or two that are special. Maybe a subspecies that is more attack prone or that has the ability to grow to the size of a Volkswagen.
“They are all the same thing. The same as domestic pigs,” said Dr. Jack Mayer, research scientist, manager of the Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken, South Carolina, and one of the countries foremost experts on wild pigs.
Through the years researchers like Mayer and others have put together a timeline of the pigs introduction into the lower 48 states. The story begins well after Eurasian wild boar were domesticated.
“It is like dogs. There are some that say they all came from grey wolves. That they are the sole ancestor of domestic dogs,” Mayer explained.
While it is possible that some of the earliest pigs were brought to North American by pre-Columbian Indians across the Bering Land Bridge, the genesis of today’s wild pig explosion is more likely traced to Christopher Columbus’s second trip the Americans in the 1400s and a list of other explorers that followed, all bringing pigs with them. While the people on those trips did not always survive efforts to colonize North American, it seems the pigs did.
As the country was settled, more pigs were brought in and bred with those left behind by the explorers that had become feral. In many areas the tradition became to turn those hogs loose in the fall to allow them to fatten on acorns before rounding up as many as possible and slaughtering them for salt pork to eat over the winter months. Not all were captured.
Jump ahead to the late 1800s and a second wave of wild European boars were brought to the eastern U.S. as hunting stock. Of course some of those animals escaped the hunt and in some cases probably grouped up with feral pigs already in the area.
In the first quarter of the 1900s a San Antonio bank brought European boars to a ranch it owned on the South Texas coast for hunting. That ranch is now the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, and Mayer, who has trapped pigs on the refuge, said there is still signs of influence from that stocking in the current pig population based on markings and coloration. The same holds true at the Powderhorn Ranch, another property owned by the same bank that is now a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife management area.
So did any of those releases result in the giant pigs that have been killed over the years.
“All of these giant pigs, Hogzilla, Son of Hogzilla, Monster Pig, the vast majority it is known as a fact were raised as domestic animals,” Mayer said.
He said there just is not enough food available for a pig born in the wild, or one released into the wild, to reach monstrous sizes without help.
Where wild pigs are not given enough credit, and not a good way, is their willingness to charge humans.
“Attacks on humans, it happens. It is absolute rare, but it does happen,” Mayer said.
In fact, he added, it is more common around the world than fatal shark attacks over an extended period, but far less publicized.
There have only been a handful of fatal attacks in the U.S., the latest being near Anahuac in 2019 when a 59-year-old woman was killed by pigs as she walked from her car to the house where she worked as a caretaker.
More common are attacks by wounded or cornered pigs on hunters. Experts believe attacks could become more common as pig numbers continue to grow and interaction with humans increases.
And pig numbers are on the increase. In Texas best-guess estimates are there are 3 million or more wild pigs causing tens of millions of dollars worth of damage annually. To just control the numbers at the present rate it is estimated Texans would have to kill close to 2 million a year. We are not even close.
Other than hunting and trapping, or an outbreak of a swine disease, there is nothing to slow the population increase especially in the south. Wild pigs are capable of having multiple litters per year, and upwards of 10 piglets per litter. Being omnivores they can survive on a diverse diet.
Some the increase has been caused by translocation for hunting purposes. However, a few states have been able to get ahead of the problem while numbers were still low. They were contained or eliminated using proactive efforts including the traditional means, and cutting edge efforts like environmental DNA where the location of the pigs is narrowed by detecting traces of DNA in water sources like streams and searching for them in the area when it is found.