Wild hogs rooting up problems across East Tennessee

Wild hogs dig up %241.5 billion dollars in damage each year across the country. WBIR 10 news reporter Leslie Ackerson spent hours with local wildlife agents in the middle of the night to give you an up close look at this feral pig problem. (11/11/15 6PM)

(WBIR - KNOX COUNTY) Rooting up crops. Carrying diseases. Breeding rapidly. They aren't a welcome guest.

"There is nothing good about this animal," Scott Dykes said.

As the Wild Hog Program Coordinator for Region 4, Dykes sees firsthand the problems that wild hogs can cause.

"It's really unfortunately on most of the properties, " Dykes said. "It's a species of animal that nobody wants because of how destructive they are."

Wild hogs are an animal that can survive in almost any environment, and now they're showing up in Knox County.

"Being in the places you least expect them to be," said Tony Hickle, a Region 4 Wildlife Officer, "Here we just really was shocked to find out we had this big of a population of hogs here."

 The United States Department of Agriculture says there is $1.5 billion of damage annually from hogs across the country. 

"These are not your typical cute and cuddly little farm animal," Hickle said.

Short, stocky animals the hogs have broad front shoulders and skinny back ends. Their long ears stick up with a straight, tufted tail. 

The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency is fighting around the clock to eradicate them.

WHY THEY'RE A NUISANCE

In search of grubs and roots, hogs can cause devastation to a property.

"Crop damage is tremendous," Dykes said. "Beyond damage there is also erosion issues, they cause erosion, water pollution."

In Powell, Claude Yow grows muscadine grapes for his health. 

"I enjoy my wine, I drink four ounces every morning," Yow said.

It's on his 400 acres of lush land that hogs found themselves right at home.

"They dug up about 50 of my vines this year, they dug up two water lines," Yow said. "They root them out and really destroy, they're a nuisance."

"The biggest problem is that they are exotic animals. these pigs don't belong here," Dykes said. "They are not native to here so that is why they cause all of the destruction that you see, in their path and it's because of the fact that our landscape is not set up to with stand the behavior of those animals."

That's not all. Wild hogs can harbor a wide variety of parasites and diseases

"Not far from here [Powell] we have had some that have come back positive for pseudo rabies," said Dykes. 

While the pseud-rabies can not be transmitted to humans, they can pass to other livestock. 

"When that happens that will be reflected at the grocery store whether its pork or beef or whatever," said Dykes

HOW DID THEY GET HERE?

"When hogs first arrived in Tennessee, it was probably the 1920s," said Dykes, "Wild hog hunting was becoming more and more popular, so the hunting preserves started bringing in wild hog."

But the hogs didn't stay behind fences for very long.

"There's a little saying that goes unless you're fence holds water, it won't hold a hog," said Dykes.

Bit by bit hogs escaped, breeding with domesticated pigs. While some hogs are the newest generations form the '20s, illegal stocking hogs for sport. is a problem still happening today.

 

"We've had a lot of wild hog activity popping up in new places," Dykes said. "Most of that can be attributed to illegal stocking of wild hogs."

 

POPULATION PROBLEMS

Their rapid breeding adds a huge obstacle. A mother hog, a sow, can have two to three litters in 14 months. Each holding anywhere from three to 14 piglets.

"The population can double in no time, and then triples and then next thing you know you have a tremendous amount of hogs," Dykes said.

As the population grows, the call volume at TWRA continues to rise.

"Folks here in the eastern part of the state are not really accustomed to seeing this damage," Hickle said. "I guess it takes them some time to learn what's actually causing this damage out here."

THE SOLUTION 

The destructive animals can be challenging to catch.

"These hogs are very, very smart animals," Hickle said.

The hunt to track them down happens in the shadows of the night.

"You have to have the three P's, perseverance, patient, persistence," Hickle said. "Most of our work is done after sundown, up into the wee hours of the morning."

A strong, round, corral trap is baited to lure hogs in. Corn, sprinkled with sweet Jello mix or molasses is scattered on the ground inside. Hogs will slowly start visiting the trap night after night. After officers believe they have a conditioned pattern, they will strike. 

"When we push the button it will send a signal and release the gate and drop it," Dykes said.

As night falls, officers spend hours with night-vision cameras, waiting for the hogs to appear.

"It has ranged months before we actually start catching these hogs," Hickle said. "Trapping hogs is not an event, it's a process, a long drawn out process."

The hogs rounded up will be killed.

"If we have 100 hogs on this property, we kill 70 of them this year, we come back without touching them we will have at least 100 hogs back on this property next year," Dykes said.

Wildlife officers call it a tough, but necessary job. One that helps prevent hogs form destroying crops, spreading diseases and exploding in numbers across East Tennessee. 

In 2014, TWRA killed 951 hogs total across the state of Tennessee. The meat is sent to an animal product recyling plant, because unhealthy parasites mean it's may not be safe to eat.

There is a hunting season for the hogs. Some hunters have questioned why wildlife officials won't allow open hunting of the destructive animals year round. TWRA said they have tried an open season on hogs before, and it wasn't an effective control measure. Instead of lowering the number of animals, they population actually grew, and the hogs were pushed into new territories.

If hogs are on your land, you can kill them. You just need to obtain a free exemption from the TWRA office. 

 


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