SC looks to Texas as effort nicknamed 'hog apocalypse' takes shape

SC looks to Texas as effort nicknamed 'hog apocalypse' takes shape
(Source: WMBF News)
(Source: WMBF News)

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - An animal that lives in the forests and wetlands of every county in South Carolina is causing millions of dollars in damages to the state every year. Their financial impact isn't the only issue, the animals can also be dangerous. Officials across the southeast are considering an alternative chemical method to eradicate wild hogs in an effort becoming known as the "hog apocalypse."

"In all honesty...with the amount of damage they cause, they need to go...they need to be gone," wildlife expert Ben Powell said. He works with the Clemson Extension in Conway. "[They cause] an estimated $115 million worth of damages in crop and non-crop land uses in South Carolina," he continued.

According to the Clemson Extension, wild hogs have dramatically increased in numbers in the past decade.  It's estimated there's about 150,000 of them in South Carolina.  The South Carolina Wild Hog Task Force was created in response to the increase to study the hogs, manage efforts to control the population and reduce problems associated with their presence.

"They'll eat anything," Powell explained. The hog problems include, but are not limited to eating deer fawns, bird eggs and livestock like lambs and newborn calves as well as crop seedlings and sprouts.  The rooting and wallowing behaviors of the hogs, especially in river basins, leads to water quality issues and soil erosion, according to the Clemson Extension's website. The feral hogs are known to have diseases. "They can also spread diseases like pseudorabies and brucellosis, which can spread to humans," the website stated.

Powell said you can frequently find hogs near river basins often in the Pee Dee, Savannah and in Georgetown.  He explained wild pigs were likely first introduced in the United States by explorers in Georgetown, and thousands are still there.  A story written in a famous explorer's diary about losing a herd of pigs in the area is the source of that conclusion, Powell said.  He explained the recent floods helped contain the population from growing too much, since sows often have their litters in areas likely to flood.

But, the floods and hunters haven't nearly put a dent in the population. In February, the Texas Agricultural Commissioner rolled out a plan being compared to chemical warfare on pigs. It's called, fittingly, Kaput.  The product is similar to rat poison. Once eaten by a pig, it'll die. While farmers look favorably on "Kaput" to protect their crops, hunters, meat processors and animal rights corporations aren't for it.  A Washington Post article here said Australia used a similar chemical to wipe out swine herds. It was later banned as 'inhumane.'

Kaput contains a chemical called warfarin, which is similar to rat poison and used as a blood thinner for humans. It's designed to be in a hog-specific feeder with an 8-10 pound lid to limit other animals from accessing it. The idea is to train the hogs to come to it with non-poisonous food, then place the poison and the hogs will come. However, Powell said studies have shown animals like raccoons and bears can lift the lid, as hogs can with their snouts.  Powell said Kaput will kill any animal that eats it, and will have a ripple effect on animals that eat the hogs.

Kaput was approved for feral hog control by the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year. Soon after, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced a state rule change to allow Kaput as a 'long overdue' solution to feral hogs.  Then, an injunction was placed on Kaput. That injunction expires this week, sparking more debate as to what will happen.  According to Powell, the first Kaput training meeting was held in Texas Monday night. His source said 90 farmers were trained on how to use it correctly, to avoid any accidental animal deaths. Powell said the chemical must be regulated and Kaput comes with a feed and feeder package to keep other species deaths as minimal as possible. The label warns to not allow cattle to graze and not to bait for hunting season until 90 days after Kaput is removed.

While South Carolina is watching what happens in Texas as precedent, Powell reminds South Carolinians that using rat poison to kill feral hogs in illegal. "So no matter what you may hear about this is not legal to use it in South Carolina.  It is also not legal to use any other rodenticide, even though it may contain the same cannot use a rat poison to kill pigs even though the same poison is in this particular product," he said.

Powell said Texas legislators are proposing bills to stop Kaput from being available on the market. Some believe the costs outweigh the benefits.

Here's more coverage on the story:

Texas Tribune

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