Feral pigs hog wild in South Carolina

To the chagrin of landscapers, farmers and golfers across the state, there may be no slowing the state's booming wild hog population, experts say.

The Palmetto State is home to the nation's sixth-largest population of wild hogs, many of which are hybrids of domestic pigs released into the wild and Eurasian wild boars released by hunters in the early 1900s.

South Carolina has 90,000 to 280,000 wild hogs, according to Jack Mayer, a feral-swine expert at the Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken. Population estimates are so varied, he said, because the pigs often live in dense forests and isolation, making them difficult to count.

"We say that there are 2 to 6 million wild hogs nationally. That's a pretty big spread," he said. "The truth is that we don't really know how many of them there are."

In South Carolina, the hogs can be found in all 46 counties. Most are found in swamps and along the drainage corridors of South Carolina's major rivers.

One of the hotbeds for wild hogs is Congaree National Park, where they have become a major problem. The hogs root for food along the edges of creeks running through the flood plain forest, leading to unnatural erosion problems.

The National Park Service is working with the Department of Agriculture to document the size and impact of the wild hog population at the park, said interpretive park ranger Justin Woldt.

Once the study is complete, park officials will come up with a plan to actively manage the hog population. At other national parks with similar problems, management usually translates into trapping and killing animals to reduce the population.

Sometimes nature helps control the hog population at the national park. Like people, hogs can only swim for so long before they drown. Big floods, like the ones that have happened a couple of times this winter, usually kill a small percentage of the hog population.

Carrying disease, eating "pretty much anything" and uprooting lawns, crops and golf courses, the pigs are a serious concern for wildlife officials in the 36 states with established populations, said Joseph Corn of the Southern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study at the University of Georgia.

"Feral swine have a very high reproductive rate and are very hardy animals. That's why we're seeing all of these new populations," Corn said. "Controlling an animal like that is very difficult."

Hunting wild hogs, which can grow as large as 500 pounds, is legal on private property year-round, Dozier said.

But hunting probably won't be successful in keeping the animals from running hog wild in South Carolina or any other state with an established population, Mayer said.

"Lethal removal would help keep the numbers down, but it won't control the population," he said.

Several researchers are working on a swine birth-control pill that could be placed in bait.