Peru’s Pig Problem
by Mary Thill
“Pigs, and presumably their close relatives the peccaries, are among the most intelligent of animals,” E. O. Wilson wrote in Biophilia. “Some biologists believe them to be brighter than dogs, roughly the rivals of elephants and porpoises.”
“They are smarter than anything out on the landscape,” agrees state wildlife biologist Ben Tabor, who is trying to eliminate a herd of pigs in the northeastern Adirondack town of Peru.
It’s not easy. They scatter like mercury when shot at. They ignore bait piles of corn, foraging instead on orchard drops and nuts. Since last summer, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has trapped three and shot one, the same number hit by cars. Hunters have shot another handful. There are anywhere from seven to a few dozen feral pigs out there—no one is sure. What is certain is that if they are not contained soon they probably never will be. It’s hard to say whether the Adirondack population has reached a tipping point.
“Personally I go back and forth,” Tabor says. “One day I think, This is controllable. Other days I think, Ooh boy, I don’t know.”
“The wild hog is an infestation machine,” Ian Frazier wrote in “Hogs Wild,” a 2005 New Yorker article about the spread of invasive pigs, now found in 35 states. “A study done in South Carolina found that catching wild hogs in traps required about twenty-nine man-hours per hog. Past a certain point, removing hogs is too expensive and hard on the environment to be worthwhile.”
The hogs themselves are hard on the environment. They wallow, they root. “Basically they eat anything,” Tabor says. Not just pumpkins, apples, and other crops, but reptiles, amphibians and ground-nesting birds. The U.S Department of Agriculture estimates they cause $1 billion in damage and control costs nationwide each year.
The Adirondacks has fared better than much of the United States when it comes to invasive species; elevation and latitude take the temperatures down to –30°F and lower in winter, a threshold that even some highly adaptable plants and animals cannot survive. But pigs can.
Many feral herds start as pink escapees from farms, the likely source in Peru. But they quickly grow hairy and begin to resemble their dark and tusky ancestors, the Eurasian wild boars of northern Europe.
If you see a loose or feral pig anywhere in the Adirondacks, call the DEC’s wildlife office at (518) 897–1291 or e-mail the agency through this website.