In the scrublands of Texas, the battle lines have been drawn. On the one side sit farmers and officials, on the other side their porcine adversary. This week, the rules regulating the millions of feral pigs that roam the state have changed, allowing the legal poisoning of the hogs.
The chemical warfare declared on the pigs is an attempt to reduce their burgeoning numbers. There are thought to be around 2.5 million of the animals snuffling through the landscape, devouring much in their path, including the crops of understandably annoyed farmers. The feral pigs, thought to have been introduced when the Spanish first moved in during the 1600s, cause around $52 million in damage to agriculture annually.
But keeping their numbers in check is something of a challenge, to say the least. The sows are able to have two litters a year, with each litter containing up to six piglets a pop. This means that the population of wild pigs can balloon over a very short period of time, leading that state's Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller to announce the move to allow poisoning to take place.
“They’re so prolific, you can’t hardly keep them in check,” said Miller to the American-Statesman. “This is going to be the hog apocalypse, if you like: If you want them gone, this will get them gone.” Miller has suggested using a drug normally given to people to thin their blood, warfarin, to poison the pigs. In high doses, the drug acts as a pesticide that also stains the fat of the animals bright blue, meaning that any humans who hunt poisoned hogs by accident will know straight away not to eat them.
But some hunters and conservationists are concerned about the plan, with 12,000 having signed a petition against it already. While it has been said that the pesticide would be distributed in feeders only accessible to hogs, there are a myriad of other ways that it could then get into the wider environment, where it could do unknown damage to the local wildlife and ecosystem.
The chemical would likely not target pigs only. The crumbs that the animals drop at the trough could be eaten by rodents such as mice, which would then die only to be eaten by birds of prey. As the birds feed on multiple rodents, the poison can quickly build up in their bodies, killing them too. And while humans might know that the blue flesh means it has been laced with pesticides, the coyotes and birds don’t, meaning that anything scavenging from an infected carcass would also likely die.