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Health, Science, Environment

Missouri steps up effort to control feral pigs

Missouri Department of Conservation
Feral hogs in a corral-like trap.

No one knows exactly how many feral hogs are in Missouri.

But the Missouri Department of Conservation has eliminated 7,300 so far this year.

The pigs aren’t a native Missouri wildlife species. They’re descendants of domesticated pigs that either escaped or were set free to be hunted.

“For over 20 years, unregulated hunting of feral hogs was allowed in Missouri, during which time our feral-hog population expanded from a few counties to over 30 counties,” said Mark McLain, who leads the department’s feral-hog strike team tasked with trapping and killing the animals.

Feral hogs reproduce quickly, with large litters up to twice a year. The hogs can carry diseases that could be spread to livestock and even humans. Conservation officials also consider them an invasive species, as they can easily take over native wildlife habitats.

“They’re really one of those species that can really cause a lot of damage,” said Bob Pierce, a fisheries and wildlife professor at the University of Missouri. “For those reasons, [the state] is really making a focused effort to remove as many animals as they can.”

The state’s conservation department banned hog hunting on public lands in 2016. Hunting tends to scatter hogs and make them more difficult to catch.

“The hunting and shooting can certainly eliminate that single animal, but a lot of times, if you shoot one then the others — and they tend to move in groups — they just scatter,” Pierce said. “You don’t have that opportunity then to control that whole group.”

Instead, the conservation department has placed an emphasis on large-scale trapping, a method that can catch as many as 60 hogs at a time. In order to catch the wily hogs, the traps need to be updated almost constantly, said Norman Murray, species and habitat chief of the Wildlife Division at Missouri Department of Conservation.

“The trap design and strategy is ever-evolving, as our designers are constantly tweaking them and learning new strategies,” Murray said.

For example, conservation officials have found large corral-type traps that descend on groups of hogs from above via a trip wire or remote control have been most effective at catching the hogs.

The Department of Conservation also is focusing its efforts on the regions with the most hogs, he said. They’ll try to eliminate all the hogs in a region before moving to another.

In Missouri, most feral hogs are south of Interstate 44, with the largest concentration in the southeast part of the state.

Still, the department reported it has eliminated 186 in the St. Louis region this year.

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