Getting a grip on the feral hog invasion in North Texas

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by DAVID SCHECHTER

Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter

WFAA

Posted on January 27, 2011 at 12:15 AM

Updated Thursday, Jan 27 at 3:42 AM

ARLINGTON — Feral hogs... in Arlington?

Yes. And in Irving and Fort Worth, too.

There are two million feral hogs in Texas, and some are now making their way into urban areas.

Hunting and trapping are not enough to control the problem. New research focuses on killing the pests with poison bait.

Not only is it hard work trapping a hog — lugging around and setting bulky traps — but in the big picture, it's a losing effort.

Sows can reproduce twice a year, with six  to eight piglets per litter. That's a lot of animals tearing up yards while searching for grubs to eat.

Ray Rentschler with Arlington Animal Control has a hard time stahying ahead of the hogs. "We're just going to do the best we can... keep trapping," he said.

Some traps are temporary, but others are permanent, installed along trails that are like feral hog superhighways.

The animals come in looking for food, the door comes down, and the animals don't come out alive.

"In this trap so far, we've caught six," Rentschler said. "And we've caught a total of 30 since February."

The hogs are euthanized by Arlington Animal Control after walking into the trap. But this process is likely only enough to control the hog population, or force it to move on — not permanently reduce it.

Doing that will require science.

In South Texas, the United States Department of Agriculture is testing ways to deliver poison to the pigs in a way that won't harm other animals.

"The most important part for us is that it be humane; that it only be delivered to hogs," said USDA state director Mike Bodenchuk. "We don't want chemicals in other animals."

The bait would be laced with a toxin that slowly reduces oxygen in the blood. It goes in a feeder with a door that, by design, can only be lifted by a hog's snout.

"The distance between the bar and ground is such that a larger animal — like a cow or a deer — couldn't even accidentally get in there and flip it open," Bodenchuck explained, adding that the poison and the feeder could be approved for use within three years.

"We think it's very promising," Bodenchuk said. "It would give people an opportunity to do their own hog control at a meaningful level without a whole lot of work."

Controlling feral hogs is a lot of work, but using toxic chemicals in the woods could be a tough sell.

"I don't believe we would be comfortable, at all," said Arlington Animal Services manager Jay Sabatucci.

More testing — and federal approval — are needed to prove the system is safe.

But if it is, experts believe they may finally outsmart one of nature's smartest — and most fertile — wild creatures.

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com

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