Louisiana’s feral pig problem is fast becoming a crisis that wildlife officials are calling one of the more pressing environmental issues for the region. There are an estimated 400,000 feral hogs in the state, and the invasive species is poised to grow exponentially. Like other researchers across the country, scientists at Louisiana State University’s AgCenter are searching for ways to curb the pig population, but their latest development may be a bit sweeter than expected. For some time, the center has been experimenting with introducing sodium nitrite—a highly toxic chemical to swine—into the pig population, but wild hogs seem to be put off by the taste. In response, researchers began using gummy bears as bait.
“I like using gummy bears as a way to hide the salty and bitter taste of sodium nitrite,” said AgCenter animal science researcher Glen Gentry in a press release.
Sodium nitrite is a yellowish powder that can induce methemoglobinemia in pigs, a condition that occurs when oxygen is leeched out of the animal’s blood, causing it to become sleepy and lie down. In large enough quantities, it is fatal to pigs. Humans and most other mammals are less affected by the toxin because of a naturally-occurring enzyme that can combat the process. Pigs do not have as much of this enzyme and are much more vulnerable to sodium nitrite.
“When using sodium nitrite, the animal suffocates from the inside out,” Gentry explained.
While that may not sound very pleasant, the pig is usually asleep during the process and is not assumed to feel much pain. The use of the chemical in conjunction with bait is also considered a very effective form of population control. So far wildlife officials have used hunters and trappers, as well as sharpshooters, to cull the pig population, but those efforts are being outpaced. Due to their fast breeding cycle and large litter sizes, scientists estimate that roughly 75 percent of the pig population must be culled very year to keep it stable. In addition to being a menace to farmers and landowners, uprooting seedlings, degrading forests, and contaminating waterways with coliform bacteria, pigs are also having a significant negative effect on the state’s wildlife. According to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, feral hogs are responsible for a decline in popular game species such as deer, turkey, and quail.
“Research shows that deer and hogs do not mix and that deer can be displaced by hogs,” read the department’s annual deer report. “Research has shown that deer detection rates can be up to 49% less where hogs occur. Hog populations affect deer numbers through direct competition for food resources and fawn predation. Hogs carry infectious diseases such as Leptospirosis, brucellosis, and pseudo-rabies.”
Gentry is currently searching for a more effective delivery medium than gummy bears, as well as something a bit more selective. He also agrees with state conservationists that more people should be aware of the destruction pigs can cause if not controlled.
“We need to show this animal in a very negative light to the decision-makers,” said Randy Lanctot, former executive director of the Louisiana Wildlife Federation. “They need to see that this is a bad animal.”
Image courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service