Feral hogs have been seen clashing with people near suburban hubs across the greater Houston area on social media and in the news this year. The wild pigs have been seen chasing teenagers in Atascocita, on ranches and farms in Liberty County and chastising home owners in The Woodlands.
Although this problem feels new to the suburbanites, it is not new to Texas.
Feral hogs are an invasive species in the state, according to Justin Foster, Research Coordinator with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for Region 2. The problem with feral hogs in suburban communities like the Lake Houston area is the potential for property damage, which applies to agricultural areas as well. In Texas, it is estimated they cause $52 million in crop damages and control costs every year and greater than $1.5 billion in the U.S., according to the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute.
If an individual is to come into contact with a feral hog they should refrain from touching the animals because of the pathogens they carry, said Mike Bodenchuk, state director for the Texas Wildlife Services Program. To prevent luring them toward homes, Bodenchuk recommends residents pick up any animal food outside. They can transfer Pseudorabies, otherwise known as PRV, to other animals from snout contact, which may be transferred through the food of household pets. They can also cause bacteria like E. coli to grow in surface water, such as lakes and streams, that they come into contact with from fecal bacteria.
If someone must touch a feral hog, use rubber gloves to prevent a spread of pathogens, Bodenchuk said.
“We do tell people if you’re going to handle them, I mean even just to drag them out of the road or drag them off your property, wear rubber gloves,” Bodenchuk said. “They do have a bunch of pathogens that can be passed on to people.”
Bodenchuk said a man in the Texas Panhandle shot feral hogs and moved the animals to keep his equipment from running over them. By touching the hogs he contracted Hepatitis E and had to have a liver transplant.
“He didn’t gut them, he didn’t take them home and eat them, just from dragging them out of a field,” Bodenchuk said.
There is also the option to shoot feral hogs, as long as it is within legal ramifications. A professional trapping expert and hog hunter in Liberty County Joel Dudley, frequently hunts feral hogs on ranches, farms and in Liberty County subdivisions through his business, Nuisance Wildlife Removal. In February, his friend Mike Huckabay, of Tarkington, Texas, made a shot that killed the 488-pound feral hog. They had to use a tractor the next day to remove the body as reported in the Houston Chronicle.
"We knew this one was big, but we couldn’t tell exactly how big," Dudley, 47, said. "I've been doing this my whole life [and] by far this is the biggest pig that I have literally seen myself."
This comes after Atascocita resident David Powe, 31, wrangled a feral hog that was chasing after his daughter. Powe's wife, Taryn, 33, said she has recently noticed an increasing amount of dead feral hogs in the Kingwood area along Kingwood Drive and West Lake Houston Parkway. One of the hogs got a little too close for comfort when it chased after the Powe's 14-year-old daughter on Feb. 7. Taryn said her husband decided to capture the animal after police told them animal control would not pick it up.
Reasons for increased population, sightings
Feral pigs or hogs can move for a variety of reasons, according to Foster. He said he could not explain why there may seem to be an increase in feral pigs at any particular location but knows of their general habits. Development and flooding, which have happened frequently in the last few years in the Lake Houston area, are two of the reasons why feral hogs would now be a part of the community. They could also be seeking food sources, according to Bodenchuk.
Feral hogs are also increasing in population, not only in Texas but as a species. Bodenchuk said research projects from southeast Texas shows that there are between six and 10 feral pigs per square mile.
“There’s no reason to believe that feral pig populations are stable or decreasing, all evidence is that they are increasing,” Foster said. “Populations are very difficult to estimate, and that’s probably not going to change for some time because of our ability to detect them on the landscape is very difficult. All evidence is that they are increasing and expanding their range geographically and certainly seeing that in general, the population is increasing.
Although residents may see pigs running across the neighborhood yard, Foster said the majority of pigs exist in the United States, or any other country for that matter, in rangeland, wildlands and forests, which makes them difficult to detect.
“I think it’s intuitive that as feral pig populations and human populations increase, and we expand human development into what was previously rangeland, things of that nature, that we’re going to see an increase in human and pig conflict because that’s part of what drives it,” Foster said.
Originally published with the Houston Chronicle