Anyone who owns land in South Texas is familiar with wild pigs. Known to do damage, a viable control of the animal has yet to be discovered. However, researchers with Texas Parks and Wildlife could be close to arriving on a safe, humane, option.
At the Kerr Wildlife Management Area near Hunt, researchers spend many days rounding up and weighing in wild pigs. The eating habits of the pigs are investigated.
"How many, how much, what time period they're in the feeders,” said Donnie Frels, with the Wildlife Division of Texas Parks and Wildlife.
Each pig is tagged and tracked. Feeders in the area, designed to attract wild pigs only, contain a toxic bait containing sodium nitrite. It is a common food preservative humans consume almost every day. It is safe for humans, but as these researchers have discovered, not for the pigs.
"It affects the blood's ability to carry oxygen,” said Frels. “The animals become intoxicated."
The pigs eventually go to sleep and never wake up. It is a process many feel is a safer, more humane method of control. The researchers originally borrowed the idea from Australians, but are working to perfect the process of targeting the pigs alone.
"We believe it's probably the way to go,” said Frels.
It is also much cheaper and less laborious than other often used alternatives of control of wild pigs.
"Because we recognize that our contemporary control methods which are trapping, helicopters, dog hunting, snaring, things of that nature… although they all have their place and can be effective, the cost of control is still very high," said Justin Foster, an expert on the subject with Texas Parks and Wildlife.
The opportunistic feeders are responsible for $52 million dollars in crop damage in Texas annually. In addition, damage to all land in the state, totals to $200 million dollars annually.
"Equally important is the threat to human health, said Foster. “Feral pigs are known carriers of diseases that can impact humans.”
In the end, researchers hope sodium nitrite could be long-term solution for the continued problem. Use by private landowners on a large-scale, however, is likely still years away.