No Oink About It, Feral Pig Problem Spreading

War is being waged right now across the country -- against huge, ever-growing packs of feral pigs that are running rampant, destroying crops, killing wildlife and spreading disease everywhere they go, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports.

They’ve been spotted all the way from Texas to California to Michigan and in New York.

“It's estimated there are at least 4 million of them nationwide, but its impossible to count them all so there may be much more” said Carol Bannerman, a spokesman for the USDA Wildlife Services.

Officials say they cause more than $8 million worth of damage every year. “That amount doesn’t include impact to the natural environment and native species, or to water” Bannerman said. One disease humans can get, she said, by coming in contact with the beasts bodily fluids is called "swine brucellosis," and is extremely painful.

Historians think the hogs were first brought by explorers to this country from Spain in the late 1500s. The boars bred and spread -- and have chomped their way across the country ever since, devouring crops and small livestock.

The pigs are most prevalent in the South, where the climate is most conducive. Texas is said to have the largest population.

In Florida, the animals’ numbers are rapidly increasing. Bryan Swanson, of All Star Animal Rescue in St. Petersburg, said his phone has been ringing off the hook lately, as the pigs make their way into neighborhoods and playgrounds.

“Their population is absolutely exploding because their breeding cycle is insane,” Swanson said. “Just six months after being born, the hogs can have a full litter of up to 13 more hogs. They have no natural predators, so there's nothing to stop them.”

Swanson said people have complained about pets being attacked and yards being destroyed. “You can have a beautifully manicured lawn one day and then wake up the next day and its like a bulldozer went through it," he said.

One group that enjoys the growing pork population are hunters.

“A lot of people like to hunt feral swine because the pigs are so intelligent, it’s a lot more challenging to hunt them than, say, deer or bears. They’re considered fun to hunt,” said Mary Dettloff of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The state, which is estimated to have about 6,000 wild swine, now has a “shoot on sight order,” which means anyone with any type of hunting license can legally kill a feral pig. In July 2011, it will become legal for a person to shoot a hog that comes onto his property as well, she said.

Although Midwest states like Michigan have a smaller number of swine, the animals are so adaptable they’re able to survive even in harsh winter weather by growing hair on their coats and developing tusks, Dettloff said, so “we expect to see a lot more of them over the next several years.”

Animal rights groups are outraged over what they say is persecution of pigs. Don Anthony, of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, said he doesn’t believe the swine are causing all the problems that are claimed.

He wants state leaders to “leave them alone or find a way to neuter them to keep their population down,” he said. Since the hogs have been in the United States for five hundred years, they’re “almost natives,” so “we should be used to them by now. Killing them is barbaric and unnecessary,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking the problem very seriously. "Because of the impact it has on everything from agriculture to natural resources and humans’ health and safety, its an extremely important problem,” Bannerman said.