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Let’s be clear: in the South, we love pigs—specifically, eating them. With breakfast, we’ll fry up thick, fatty slices of bacon and cover our biscuits in chunky sausage gravy. Holiday meals always include steaming slices of fresh smoked ham. We even devote entire celebrations to the roasting of the portly porcine and the best ways to barbecue their meat causes debate across state lines. But in recent years, these fleshy, bumbling piggies have given rise to a terrifying and temperamental relative. Certain regions of the South, especially the wild state of Texas, are battling millions of the raucous, ravaging cousin of our beloved breakfast: feral pigs.
Feral pigs, also known colloquially as wild hogs or Razorbacks (yup, like the mascot), are defined as a breed that is wild but descended from domesticated hogs. When pigs are released into the wild and multiply, interesting physiological changes occur—and quickly. This isn’t a Darwinistic development over generations and generations, but a seemingly instantaneous reversion to their terrifying truths. Their soft, downy hair turns dark and bristly; their baby pink, tender flesh becomes dark and rugged; for digging, they develop long, curved tusks and a narrow, hard snout. And those amiable, friendly dispositions we associate with Wilbur become the devilish, conniving, and brutal personalities that terrorize the residents of Orwell’s Animal Farm.
Feral pigs actually have a long history with America. Back in the sixteenth century, Christopher Columbus released a herd of hogs in the West Indies in order to provide free and easy food supplies to future expeditions. Hernando De Soto and Ponce de Leon took similar tactics in Florida, and feral hogs came to reside on mainland North America. Surprisingly, hogs are actually not native to our country. It wasn’t until these original explorers brought along their piggy pets and introduced them to our lands that their pink hooves ever graced our fertile soils.
And fertile soils they certainly were for these alien creatures. Hogs took to America like, well, like a pig to mud. Hogs are unique and frankly incredible creatures. Their intelligence rivals that of most mammals, making them highly adaptable and innovative in their survival techniques. They can—and do—thrive in any climate and ecosystem. They’re omnivorous, so they can eat and survive on just about anything. Their predators are rare—in America, species like coyotes or bobcats occasionally prey on feral pigs—allowing them to multiply without natural impediment. Plains, swamps, woods, and mountains—hogs quickly roamed and adapted to every environment found in America.
Feral pigs didn’t just multiply and spread through our Southern soils from those ancient ancestors—we put them there. As colonists began settling our states, they often let their livestock (especially hogs) roam freely so they could fatten on native nuts and plants during the summer months, capturing them again in the cool days preceding winter. The problem was, some of them never made it to that final step of recapture. Instead, those domesticated pigs stuck to the land, breeding and multiplying into a foreign beast. Similarly, during wars or hardship, many settlers would simply abandon their homestead—and their livestock with it. Those industrious pigs made the best of their situation and survived, their future generations morphing into the feral terrors of today.
The massive population of feral pigs—over 2.6 million—that roam the Texas territory owe their particular descendancy to one more factor. In the 1930’s, when big game hunting became the sport of choice for Texas tycoons, suppliers scrambled to find more interesting game to throw into the hunt. They imported Eurasian wild boars—an even more frightening version of our own ghastly feral pigs—and set them free in the loosely demarcated hunting grounds. As their relatives did before them, these wild boars wandered the lands, mating with other feral hogs and creating a super-breed of ferocious, untamable feral pigs.
Feral pigs are now the bane of the American existence. Across the country and even into Canada, these hardy mammals leave disaster and destruction in their wake. In Texas alone feral pigs cause over $400 million in property damage annually. They root up crops, digging fallows up to three feet deep with their tough snouts and tusks. They terrorize pets and farm animals and have even been known to eat lambs, foals, and calves. They mow through acres of native plants, a noxious habit that allows invasive plants to take hold on the vulnerable grounds. They offer unwelcome competition for native wildlife like turkeys and deer. They’re dirty, wild, and unchecked, and their contact with domestic breeds put our favored food source at risk for disease and illness. They take up residence in parks, golf courses, athletic fields, lawns, and gardens, terrorizing humans and disrupting our domestic bliss. These once domestic darlings are a plague, a blight on our Southern soils.
Over the past few decades, we’ve begun to realize the sheer destruction of feral pigs and begun the long, impossible task of eliminating, or at least reducing, their impact on our lands. Most states allow unrestricted hunting of wild boars, and some even send out governmental helicopters armed with guns to take down packs of the nuisance. Some hunters take the hogs alive and sell them to slaughterhouses as exotic meats. And yet the feral pig population continues to grow—seemingly invincible.
Yes, we Southerners love to satiate our hunger with hogs. Next time you pig out on pork, don’t worry—it’s your civic duty to help diminish that wild population, one piece of bacon at a time.
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