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Explosive population growth of wild pigs slowed by conservation efforts

Conservation efforts aimed at curbing wild pig populations in the southeastern United States have been successful, according to a new study led by the University of Georgia.

Focus of the study

The study was focused on a reduction in wild pig populations around the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina.

Within 24 months after the inception of control measures, there was a remarkable reduction in these populations by about 70 percent. 

Environmental rooting damage – a major concern with wild pigs – also plummeted by almost 99 percent.

Extensive damages 

According to the researchers, the study will help conservation groups manage a problem with both environmental and economic costs, as wild pigs were responsible for over $1.5 billion in property and crop damage in 2007.

“Through their destructive foraging habits, wild pigs cause extensive damages to crops across the country,” said Professor Jim Beasley. “Wild pigs also carry several diseases that can be transferred to livestock, adding to their substantial agricultural impact.”

Introduction of wild pigs

The menace of wild pigs isn’t a recent issue. These animals were introduced to the U.S. centuries ago as a potential food source. Over time, they mixed with the purebred Eurasian boar introduced for hunting. 

With high reproductive rates and non-selective diets, hybridized wild pigs rapidly multiplied across the region. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw an exponential rise in their numbers, causing significant damage to the agricultural industry.

Control programs 

To counter this growing problem, numerous large-scale control programs were initiated, predominantly using lethal methods to cut down the wild pig populations.

Professor Beasley and his team collaborated with 19 mixed-forest agricultural properties in South Carolina to investigate the effectiveness of such control programs. 

How the research was conducted 

For three years, the team surveyed the wild pig populations and the resulting agricultural and environmental damages, after the implementation of a professional control initiative.

“Before the trappers went in and began management efforts, we placed remote cameras around the properties to assess the initial population of wild pigs,” said Professor Beasley.

“Every six months, we would go back out and reassess the populations to see how effective the management methods were.”

“Most studies estimate that you need to remove 40% to 60% of a wild pig population each year to maintain or significantly reduce a population, and they exceeded that threshold.”

“With sustained management the population should continue to shrink over the next several years. However, what is unknown is how quickly the population will recover if management efforts cease.”

Explosive population growth

The damage these pigs wreak on the environment is extensive. They forage by overturning soil and roots, causing significant damage to natural habitats and other wildlife. 

As natural omnivores, their diet includes amphibians and other smaller creatures, posing a threat to their populations.

Professor Beasley identified multiple reasons behind the explosive growth in wild pig populations, ranging from illegal human interventions of moving pigs to areas with year-round hunting permissions, to the warmer climates observed in recent years. 

“It’s really a combination of both human-driven factors and natural expansions of populations.”

The study is published in the journal Pest Management Science.

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