A population of wild pigs that have been reproducing at an explosive rate in Canada could soon spill over the border to northern US states, bringing horrific diseases with them, ruining crops and even posing a violent danger to humans.
States including Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana are taking steps to prevent an invasion as feral swine currently roaming Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba pose a new threat. The pigs are crossbreeds that have the survival skills of wild Eurasian boars and the size and high fertility of domestic swine, which combine to create a "super pig" population that's spiralling out of control.
Ryan Brook, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan and an expert on Canada's wild pig problem has called the beasts "the most invasive animal on the planet" and warns they could be "an ecological train wreck." Pigs aren't native to North America but Canada's issue with the wild animals can be traced 1980s when farmers were encouraged to raise wild boar, Professor Brook explained.
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But when the market collapsed after its peak in 2001 many farmers simply cut their fences and set the pigs free. As it turns out the pigs were actually pretty good at surviving in the wild, with the hardy beasts even proving tough enough to make it through harsh Canadian winters.
But the pigs pose some big problems. Firstly, they eat anything — including crops and wildlife — and will often tear up land when looking for bugs or crops to feast on. Feral swine populations already cause an estimated $2.5billion in damage to US crops annually, mostly in the southern states where they are already present, like Texas.
The animals could also spread dangerous diseases to pig farms, like African swine fever — which generally results in high mortality. They are even known to be aggressive towards humans.
Back in 2019, an 84-year-old woman in Texas was killed by a group of feral hogs who attacked her outside of her home. Worryingly, the randy pigs' rapid reproduction rates mean they're difficult to eradicate.
A sow can give birth to six piglets in one litter and raise two litters per year. Professor Brook noted this means that even if 65% or more of the wild pig population was killed every year they would still be increasing in numbers.
And it sounds like even that may be difficult to achieve as the success rate for hunters is only around 2% to 3%. Some states have even banned hunting them over fears it will only make the clever pigs more wary and nocturnal — meaning they'd be even tougher to track down.
It's already too late to eradicate the wild pigs in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, according to Professor Brook. But he claims there's more hope for US states if they respond quickly by implementing detection systems that find the super pigs early and fast.
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