Hog Hassle: Swine sightings up as new developments push into wild pigs' territory

Published on Friday, 14 March 2014 22:28 - Written by Calvin Maynard calvinmaynardtmt@gmail.com

East Texas has long had a problem with feral hogs, and now they’re starting to enter Tyler city limits in a big way.

“I’ve seen them around town a couple of times,” Tori Ford, a Tyler resident, said. “The first was two years ago, but the last time was just two months ago, on Grande (Boulevard) and Old Noonday (Highway). There were about seven adults, and a whole bunch of little ones. They were just sitting there eating, right in the middle of town.”

This was not an isolated incident. Reported sightings of groups of feral hogs have increased dramatically in recent months, and city and county officials are taking notice.

“My office has been getting numerous phone calls, and we’re very aware that this is a growing problem,” Smith County Game Warden Chris L. Swift said. “I’ve seen them myself on Grande, out on the toll roads and other places in town. Road kill is definitely the most reliable way to get that information, and we’re seeing a lot of dead hogs in those places. I’d say this year is worse than ever before. It’s not like the hogs have any natural predators like bears or mountain lions here in the city, so I see this as a growing problem.”

To deal with this growing threat, the Northeast Texas Public Health District’s Tyler Animal and Mosquito Control office has hired a number of local hog hunters.

“We don’t actually have the firepower or the manpower or the big steel cages necessary to deal with a major hog problem,” said Bob Garner with Tyler’s Animal Control office. “So what we’re doing now, and what we’ve always done in these events, is we’re farming out this work to local hog hunters and trappers who have the equipment and skill necessary.”

And those hunters certainly have their hands full.

“I’ve been doing a lot of trapping in Tyler these last few months,” Earl Gee, a local hog hunter, said. “I’d say it’s worse now than ever before. Let me say it this way — I recently ran out of traps. They’re getting pretty widespread on both ends of town, the north and the south, and even some on the west side.”

Under ordinary circumstances, feral hogs prefer the dense, shady woods and cool creeks of the country to the city, but they have been known to enter urban areas in search of food.

“They’re one of the smartest animals out there when it comes to finding food,” Gee continued. “They haven’t really come into the city so far because there are plenty of creeks out in the country, but they need to stay close to food, so when there isn’t much food out there, they come into the city, especially for acorns from all of the oak trees. It’s like fruit to them.”

The search for food is not the only factor worsening the feral hog problem for Tyler this year.

“Tyler is a growing city,” Swift said. “Any time you have a dormant piece of woodland cut down to build a shopping center or an apartment complex or something, it disturbs the wildlife there. There’s been a lot of that in Tyler recently, so the hogs are on the move. All of that is worse when you consider that feral hogs have litters of up to 10 young ones, and can give birth three or four times a year, and those babies are giving birth by the time they’re a year old.”

Feral hogs pose three primary dangers.

“The main concern is auto accidents,” Swift continued. “They have a low profile; their eyes are dark and dull, so they’re a danger to vehicles. They don’t roll up onto a windshield like deer do, so they can do a lot of damage. They’re also bad for agriculture, since they burrow around in the dirt around crops for grubs and worms and things, and they can trample a lot. We don’t have a lot of that in Tyler, but they will certainly tear up yards and flowerbeds. As far as the danger they pose to people, their eyesight is terrible, so they don’t target people unless they’re cornered and confused. Mostly they prefer to just run.”

When a hog is cornered, however, it poses a great danger to anyone around it.

“The danger to a person is pretty great, especially if it’s a sow with her babies,” said Chad Shockler, another hunter working with local authorities. “They’ve got those large tusks, and they can slice you open if they feel trapped. You don’t want to mess with them.”

Texas law requires a valid hunting license to hunt feral hogs, so people are urged to contact authorities in such an event.

“The only way to stop these hogs is to shoot them, and it usually takes four or five gunners to kill a herd,” Shockler said. “A hog fence will stop them for a while, but they’ll get in if they want in bad enough — best to contact people who know how to handle this kind of thing.”

Rather than taking action, contact local authorities, who will coordinate a group of hunters to deal with the issue.

In the event of a hog sighting, contact the Northeast Texas Public Health District’s Tyler Animal and Mosquito Control office at 903-535-0090.