The invasive feral hog roams in more than 30 counties in Missouri, decimating farmland and wildlife areas in its path.
This summer, state officials banned feral hog hunting on public lands in their latest effort to eradicate the pest from Missouri. They’re also beginning to use new technology to trap the animals.
The hogs, descendants of boars brought over by European settlers centuries ago, became feral and numerous as farmers continued to release them for hunting over time. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the pest costs $1.5 billion annually in damages. The hogs also carry many diseases and parasites that can infect domesticated hogs and some that can infect humans, such as rabies and tuberculosis.
Their solitary nature and extreme sensitivity to humans makes the hogs difficult to hunt.
“A feral hog in particular needs to be left alone. They don’t like human disturbance,” said Mark McLain, a wildlife management biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation.
On a hot day in July, McLain drove out to the edge of a soybean field in Patterson, located in southeastern Missouri. A large animal trap sat in the shade. It stood on three legs, suspending a round, dark gray steel cage four feet into the air.
McLain took out his smartphone to demonstrate how the trap, called the BoarBuster, works. A camera strapped to a post nearby sends a live video feed of the trap to McLain’s phone. When the camera detects movement, it sends a text to his phone. Then, McLain can press a button on the BoarBuster app and deploy the trap.
“Alright everyone, be quiet,” he said, with a finger over the button. “Three, two, one.”
The cage dropped with a loud clang.
A few nights earlier, McLain looked at his phone and saw a few hogs wander into the trap at that location.
“I was sitting at home, getting ready for bed, honestly,” he said. “About 10:30 or so. I was watching this all on my cell phone and getting ready, hopefully to drop the trap.”
He wanted to wait until a few more followed them to deploy the trap, but unfortunately, the few hogs that did come in ended up leaving. McLain thought the animals may have sensed that other hogs were trapped in the same spot. When officials have trapped the hogs, the animals are shot and killed on the spot.
“They might have not liked the situation,” McLain said.
The Samuel Noble Foundation, a nonprofit organization that serves agricultural interests, developed the BoarBuster with help from Department of Conservation last year.
State officials are using the trap to catch as many hogs as it can at a time. This way, they can try and beat the fast pace at which the hogs reproduce. Hunting the hogs may kill one or two, but the rest will scatter.
“We’re more efficient and better equipped to reach our goal of total eradication of feral hogs with trapping over hunting,” McLain said.
The Noble Foundation claims that the BoarBuster can trap 88 percent of targeted hog populations, compared to the 49 percent or less achieved by more conventional traps.
Other traps vary in style, but some are triggered by an animal tripping over a wire, which gives the user less control over deploying the trap. They also require McLain and other officials to constantly check on the trap in person, while the BoarBuster’s live video feed allows convenient remote monitoring.
“It saves a lot of time and labor, and running around, checking the trap,” McClain said of the BoarBuster. “All you gotta do is look at your phone.”
After disassembling the trap in Patterson, McLain drove to another private property to set up the trap in a forest. There, he was joined by a USDA official, Josh Wisdom, who spent a week trying to lure hogs to that location with sweet corn.
“A good analogy I use to trying to catch feral hogs, is it’s like fishing, “ Wisdom said. “You have to put bait out.”
He pointed to markings on trees and channels drawn through the dirt as signs that hogs have been through the area before.
“I can look at the leaves and tell that the pigs frequent this area a lot,” Wisdom said. “Pigs are really good
about making linear stuff where they just put their nose down and make a little trough. I can also tell from just the disturbance — all of this [vegetation] has been turned up.”
Wisdom claims to spend more time with pigs than people. He also mentioned he was sleep-deprived, since he’s responsible for tracking them at night with a rifle in hand to shoot lone hogs.
“Best way I can describe Josh... Ever read the book, ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’? He’s the dark man,” McLain said.
McLain predicted the BoarBuster will gather hogs within a couple of days. But he said later that they failed to capture hogs in that spot. So they moved it to another location, where they managed to take a dozen at once.
“They’re funny,” McLain said. “They’re difficult at best to trap.”
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