Feral hogs have become a problem in Missouri and surrounding states over the past 20 years, conservation officials say.
The invasive species is not native to Missouri – and Al Leary, certified wildlife biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation — makes the distinction that they are not wildlife. The pigs either escaped through the years or were released intentionally to be hunted, but they reproduce rapidly and can quickly get out of control, Leary says. They can also cause a lot of damage to field crops and habitats.
Leary coordinates the department’s effort to eradicate the feral hogs in Missouri by working with other partners.
“We first started getting calls from people having issues with feral hogs probably the mid-1990s,” he says.
The problems increased with the feral hog population. In Missouri, the populations are the highest in the Ozarks, Leary says, and mostly south of Interstate 44, which runs diagonally from St. Louis to Springfield.
“It started to become a much bigger problem as the years went on,” he says. “We’ve had them in 37 counties; it’s primarily the southern third of the state.”
Leary says Iowa has not had major feral hog problems, and Illinois has addressed their feral hog issues by banning hunting of them like Kansas did.
“Illinois did the same with the banning of hunting, and they feel like they have it under control,” he says.
Leary says in the 1990s, people started bringing in Eurasian or Russian wild boars to hunt.
“Some of those escaped accidentally, and some were released illegally,” he says. “…We have populations scattered with quite a distance in between.”
Intentionally releasing the wild hogs is “definitely illegal,” Leary says.
The pigs can destroy sensitive natural areas and complicate efforts to conserve threatened and endangered species, Leary says. Their rooting and wallowing also contributes to soil erosion and reduced water quality. They compete with many native species, damage field crops and can kill lambs and goats. Leary says financial losses from crop and livestock damage alone in the U.S. are estimated to be above $1.5 billion annually, and that estimate is 10 years old.
“It is much higher today,” he said.
Bob Pierce, a University of Missouri Extension fish and wildlife specialist, says feral hogs can also spread diseases.
Leary says the state wants to get rid of the feral hogs.
“Our goal is complete elimination, and we definitely believe that is possible,” he says.
Trapping is more effective at eliminating the hogs than hunting, because the hogs scatter when one or two are shot.
“With hunting, you remove a couple animals from a group of 20, the ones that are left can repopulate pretty quickly,” he says.
But one trap caught 62 feral hogs in one night, Leary says, although it is rare to get that many. He says it’s difficult to get an accurate estimate of the feral hog population due to their repopulation rates, but the state of Missouri did remove 9,365 feral hogs last year.
“In some areas of the state, primarily on the western side, we’ve seen a reduction in pigs,” Leary says. “We’ve completely eliminated them from some areas.”
Feral hogs have the capacity to breed at any time of the year when abundant food supplies are available, MU’s Pierce says.
“Sows can begin breeding at six months of age and can potentially produce up to two litters of four to 10 piglets every 12 to 15 months,” he says. “With this high breeding potential, the population can double in about four months.”
Other neighboring states have banned the hunting of feral hogs. Missouri has banned hunting of them on Department of Conservation lands, and discourages hunting them elsewhere.
“They are not wildlife,” Leary says.
Several ag and commodity groups work with the state in the effort to eliminate feral hogs.
Gary Wheeler, who serves as CEO of the Missouri Soybean Association, is an avid hunter and outdoorsman. He says it is important to get rid of the feral hogs due to the damage they cause and the diseases they can spread, including brucellosis.
“Feral hogs are a serious problem in Missouri and must be eradicated,” Wheeler says. “We’d be foolish to put the economics and traditions of recreational hog hunting above our responsibilities to our fellow Missourians. The responsible path forward is to eradicate this invasive species and close the door to reintroduction.”