Rain drives wild hogs to higher ground

sbowman@islandpacket.comAugust 10, 2013 

Vicksburg Wild Hogs

Wild hogs are seen in the Vicksburg National Military Park in late Dec. 2011.

SAM ANDREWS — The Vicksburg Post

  • Hog facts:

  • Feral hogs have been present in coastal South Carolina since the 1500s, when they were released by the Spanish.

  • The animals were present in only 26 S.C. counties in the 1980s, but were documented in all 46 counties by 2008.

  • Feral hogs travel in packs, called "sounds" or "sounders."

  • Source: S.C. Department of Natural Resources and Jack Mayer of the Savannah River National Laboratory

Hunters, farmers and ecologists appear to be winning a few battles against wild hogs in the Lowcountry, but the war against the invasive species continues, wildlife experts say.

And with recent rains, the hogs are appearing more often.

Wild hogs normally stay hidden along riverbeds and in swamps, but the Lowcountry's heavy rainfall in recent weeks is forcing them to higher ground, said Derrell Shipes, a S.C. Department of Natural Resources wildlife chief.

"Because of all this rain and the flooding in the systems where the hogs probably prefer, it will force them out and is making them much more visible," Shipes said.

Monica Harris, visitor services manager at the Savannah Wildlife Refuge, said she continues to hear reports of hog sightings in open areas from hunters in national refuges in coastal Georgia. She could not give a specific number.

In and near Beaufort County, hogs can be found in swamps and along the drainage corridors of the Savannah, Combahee and Broad rivers, feral-swine expert Jack Mayer has said. Over the years, the hogs have been spotted throughout Beaufort County.

It is estimated that 350 to 600 wild hogs are in Beaufort County, based on 2012 hunting data from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. In Jasper County, DNR estimates there are 3,400 to 6,000 feral hogs.

It's difficult to get an accurate count because the pigs often live in dense forests and in isolation, but it is estimated there are about 110,000 wild hogs in South Carolina now -- down from their peak of about 162,000 in 2008, according to Mayer, manager for environmental services at the Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken.

But despite this apparent decrease, these animals still threaten the environment, Mayer said.

"They are one of the 100 worst invasive species on the face of the earth," he said. "The damage they do agriculturally, ecologically and economically is just incredible."

Much of that damage includes uprooting crops, spreading diseases and threatening native species, Mayer said.

Harris said the months of October and November are open hunting season on feral hogs in the wildlife refuges. She said the refuges also host an annual wild hog hunt in the spring. The next one is scheduled for March.

"We are just like any property owner; we really don't want these destructive animals on our property, either," Harris said.

Experts say hunting is part of the reason wild hogs got out of control in the first place. The animals used to be contained to the coastal region, but hunters introduced them in other areas for sport.

A law passed about three years ago makes it illegal to trap and move live wild hogs, said Shipes, who has hunted them statewide for much of his life.

But animals have almost no other protections under state law: The hogs can be baited, trapped, killed year-round and even hunted at night in some cases, he said.

Sport hunting now helps reduce the population, but Shipes said the real difference is being made by private land owners who are starting to take action.

"Wild hogs have no redeeming value, but how you get rid of them is a different story," Shipes said. "It takes a lot of work from a lot of people to reduce or eliminate the population, but I think more people are becoming aware of the problems hogs cause."

Wild hogs have one of the most explosive reproductive rates of any animal their size or larger, Mayer said. They become fertile at 5 months old and can have two litters each year with an average of six to 12 piglets per litter.

"There's a saying with these hogs that, of an average litter size of six, eight typically survive," he said.

"These animals are kind of the ultimate survivor, and if you back off after a good year, then they will bounce right back" Mayer added. "If we are going to keep their numbers in check, we have to keep working year after year after year -- that's what the challenge is."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

Related content:

SC lawmakers propose bill to quell hog, coyote, armadillo populations, March 23, 2012

Feral pigs go hog wild in South Carolina, worrying naturalists, February 14, 2010

New state laws expand hunting for hogs and coyotes, July 5, 2010

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