The Knoxville News Sentinel
Posted: Jan. 24, 2010
Updated: Jan. 24 7:25 p.m.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — National park biologists are trying to come to grips with a hog infestation in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In 2009, the park’s hog team removed 620 wild hogs, the third highest since the hog control program started in the late 1950s. Biologists say the hog population spiked last year because of a bountiful mast crop that enabled the sows to produce more than one litter.
Park biologist Bill Stiver told the Knoxville News-Sentinel the introduction of wild, semi-domesticated hogs into the park has made hog control even more difficult. “The speculation is that hunters are illegally releasing feral pigs that eventually make their way inside the park,” Stiver said. “It’s a major problem not just here, but all over North America.” He said numerous hogs killed this year had spotted markings and curly tails associated with domestic pigs. “We’re getting a handful of animals that morphologically look different from our traditional wild boar,” Stiver said. “Some of them act different, too. Instead of running away, they let you walk up to them.”
Hogs in the park date to the early 1920s, when a herd of European hogs escaped from a game reserve on Hooper’s Bald in the mountains of Graham County, N.C. The wild hogs moved into the park by the 1940s and began to wreak havoc on the ecosystem by eating rare plants and salamanders, defecating in streams and turning up the ground. Biologists believe the wild hogs that invaded the park already had crossed with free-ranging domestic pigs. Their appearance, however, retained the lean hips, large tusks, straight tails and black hair of their European ancestors. Since hunting isn’t allowed in the Smokies, the park employs a seasonal hog control team that keeps the population in check through hunting and trapping. Winter is the team’s busiest season because that’s when the hogs have moved to the lower elevations in search of food, and are most accessible by road.
Officials with the park service say the introduction of large numbers of feral pigs into the park could spread swine brucellosis. While no cases of that disease have been seen so far, since 2005 the North Carolina and Tennessee departments of agriculture have documented several cases of pseudorabies brought into the park by free-ranging pigs. One concern, said Stiver, is that the park’s bears and coyotes might contract the pseudorabies virus by scavenging on infected pig carcasses. “The hogs here serve as a reservoir for pseudorabies,” Stiver said. “That’s seen as a serious threat to the commercial swine industry, especially in North Carolina, the second leading state in the nation for pork production.”
Northwest of the Smokies, feral hogs also are a serious nuisance on public lands like the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area, both located on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau. Howard Duncan, a ranger at Big South Fork, said the park’s wild hogs tend to look more like Eurasian wild boar than feral pigs. “If you have any feral pigs or wild hogs, you have too many,” Duncan said. “They have few natural predators, and quickly build to a large population. They have no place in the ecosystem.”