I developed a project to eliminate feral hogs from a large acreage in north Florida. Since February of this year, I have been working 20+ hours a week to keep project momentum up. I have given numerous slide presentations to gather support and funding for the project. We estimate there are perhaps 15 sounders, extended family groups each consisting of an alpha female and progeny of several generations, and at least that many mature boars, for a total of about 200 to 250 feral hogs. These numbers are estimates based on literature averages multiplied by project acreage, whereas Florida may have a sufficiently shorter winter and be richer in wild foods to raise feral hog populations above that. How much greater? I don’t know, as I have yet to run across such data in the technical literature, and it would be unimportant anyway if carrying capacity is significantly larger.
The project team was already assembled when I came along. It consists of several major stakeholders, each with different rules and different real estate. My contributions to the project have been to bring to their attention the new whole-sounder approach, inspire the goal of complete extermination of this essentially isolated feral hog population, and find private funding for some equipment that other stakeholders cannot provide. All the stakeholders quickly realized that the whole-sounder approach is the best thing to come down the pike for feral hog control, so it was an easy sell. All the conservation and government groups I have presented my “hog and pony” show to have approved the project.
The whole-sounder approach was developed by Auburn University wildlife scientists conducting research at Ft. Benning GA. The breakthrough came with the advent of inexpensive game cameras and a relatively inexpensive corral trap gate that is remotely controlled via ATT Wireless technology. Using game cameras, they discovered that sounders are extremely faithful to their territories, new sounders being formed only occasionally, resulting in very low recolonization rates once a sounder’s territory has been trapped out. Remote control of the corral trap gate allows the trapper to go about his business at home or office until the wireless digital camera sends him a photo depicting hogs in the trap. The photos arrive every 2 minutes or so, and when the photos show all the sounder’s individuals in the trap, the trapper dials an 800 number and the trap door shuts. Waiting until ALL the sounder’s hogs are in the trap is crucial to the approach.
The historic approach was one of control only, using several methods like opportunistic shooting, hunting with dogs, and corral and box traps that had trip wires to trigger the gates. The problem with such traps is that they are triggered not by the trapper but by the hogs pushing against the trip wire while eating the bait, so capturing the entire sounder at once is almost impossible. The remote-controlled gate has changed all that. It gets the vast majority of the area’s feral hogs quickly and relatively inexpensively. Boars and trap-shy sounder hogs are culled by the other, older methods.
Recently, I spoke to a rural group consisting of mostly agricultural interests. Every week, farmers see the damage done to crops by feral hogs. One remarked that he loses more crop value annually than a remote-controlled corral costs. Another chimed in and the two of them, talking across the board, decided to chip in together and buy one for their combined use. I told them about a million-dollar pilot program now ongoing in New Mexico using the whole-sounder approach, and one board member decided to look into getting funds for a similar program for our state. He is well-connected. This is grass-roots stuff.
Until now, everyone thought the feral hog was invincible. Now, for the first time in my life, when I talk to wildlife professionals doing pilot projects in other states with the whole-sounder approach, I hear over and over that feral hogs can indeed be beaten. Wow.