The northern Outer Banks of Currituck County are known for wind-swept beaches, the wild horses that roam them – and, maddeningly, the feral hogs that are devouring native plants.
The wily, destructive invaders are a growing menace across the Southeast, including most North Carolina counties, federal authorities say. They’re a combination of escaped domestic pigs and Eurasian wild boars brought to the U.S. for sport hunting.
The animals reproduce quickly and have no natural predators except man. Federal agriculture officials say feral hogs cause $1.5 billion a year in damage. And despite federal efforts to wipe them out, the hogs persist in Currituck County.
Meg Puckett, herd manager for the nonprofit Corolla Wild Horse Fund, told the Outer Banks Voice that the rarely-seen feral hogs compete with horses for food and might have gored one horse with their sharp tusks. The hogs have devastated vegetation.
“It’s like a rototiller going through there, digging up native roots and tubers, allowing invasive species to come in,” Keith Wehner of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division told the Voice. “They go around consuming everything in their path.”
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has for years battled feral hogs because of the ecological damage they inflict, removing more than 10,000 since the 1950s.
Feral hogs also carry contagious diseases that can infect people and domestic swine herds, including the millions of hogs grown in North Carolina each year. A 2012 report found that feral pigs tested in Johnston County, near Raleigh, had been exposed to the bacteria that causes brucellosis, which induces sows to abort their fetuses, North Carolina Health News has reported.
“Feral swine are a major health risk to domestic herds,” Angie Maier, the North Carolina Pork Council’s director of policy development, told the Raleigh News & Observer last year. “They carry nasty diseases. If that transmits into the barns, and a domestic herd is infected, it could shut down trade.”
A new weapon for wildlife control officers is shooting feral swine from helicopters, which state legislators allowed last year. In the Carova area of Currituck County this year, wildlife officers have killed 53 hogs, including 20 shot from the air, the Outer Banks Voice reported.