Another Natural Threat to Florida: Feral Hogs

ByABC News
June 7, 2005, 12:09 PM

June 8, 2005 — -- Floridians are up to their noses in wild pigs with a population boom that has gone hog-wild.

An estimated 500,000 wild pigs now roam through the dense vegetation of Florida, and the folks who live there are grappling with a problem that's never going to go away.

European pigs arrived in the country with some of the earliest settlers, and they either escaped or were released into the wild nearly 500 years ago. Since then they have migrated as far north as Canada, and into at least 35 states, but they feel especially at home in Florida.

And that's a problem.

"They can be big, they have long tusks, their hooves are kind of dangerous, and they move pretty fast," says Bill Giuliano, an assistant professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Giuliano and George Tanner, professor of conservation, have found that wild hogs can host many diseases and parasites, including cholera, tuberculosis, salmonella, anthrax, ticks, fleas, lice and others. Male pigs can be particularly intimidating, tipping the scales at up to 200 pounds.

In some parts of the state, pigs are wreaking havoc on farms and saplings in regenerating forests. Efforts to keep the pigs under control include hunting, trapping and fencing, but it's a constant uphill battle.

"They're not going to go away," Giuliano says.

A pig can produce two, and sometimes more, litters a year, especially in southern Florida where conditions are perfect. And a litter can number a dozen. That's a lot of pigs.

"You just can't stay ahead of it," Giuliano adds.

Fortunately, the pigs aren't too fond of humans, and they tend to shy away from urban areas. So it's not as though they're prowling the streets, looking for tourists.

But a human-pig encounter can be dangerous, especially if the pig feels cornered.

"If you trap one, they get pretty aggressive," he says. And "they can cause some damage."

But since they prefer to flee rather than fight, violent human encounters are quite rare. What concerns people like Giuliano is the fact that pigs can carry diseases that affect humans. Pigs, incidentally, are so much like humans that they are often used in research on human diseases.