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Posted 10/15/2013

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By Annie Chambers

With their growing population, feral hogs are threatening human, animal and native species health throughout Florida. Their rooting behavior destroys habitat, kills plants and creates disturbed areas where invasive plants can easily grow. They carry diseases that can infect livestock or humans.

Feral hogs are the most destructive exotic animal species found throughout Florida conservation lands, according to the Florida Invasives website.

Wild hogs can grow to five to six feet long and reach weights of more than 150 pounds. They are not native to Florida and may have been introduced by Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto as early as 1539. They occur in all of Florida's 67 counties within a wide variety of habitats, but prefer oak-cabbage palm hammocks, freshwater marshes and sloughs and pine flatwoods, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) website.

Trying to prevent wild hogs from coming onto your property is usually futile, but adequate fencing can keep them out of small yards and gardens. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District is having problems of its own with the swine.

“Feral pigs cause problems at levees because they dig around them,” said Jon Lane, chief, Invasive Species Management Branch. “While the rooting doesn’t cause problems, it does allow other invasive plants to get established and disturbs the grasses we have planted there. The digging increased costs by forcing us to treat additional invasives on the levee that normally wouldn’t be there.”

There are high population densities of feral hogs due to high reproductive rates, lack of significant natural predators and their ability to adapt to a wide variety of habitats. These swine pose a threat of disease transmission to humans, livestock and native wildlife. They are known to carry brucellosis and pseudorabies.

Pseudorabies is a highly contagious herpes viral disease which occurs in swine. Once swine are infected with this virus they will remain infected for the rest of their lives. Swine infected with pseudorabies are capable of transmitting the disease to other species including cattle, sheep, goats, horses, dogs and cats. Pseudorabies infections in these secondary species are usually fatal.

What can be done to rid Florida of these disease-carrying hogs?

Wild hogs are legally defined as wildlife and are the second-most popular, large animal hunted in Florida (second only to the white-tailed deer), according to the FWC website. The FWC outlines several hunting precautions for safe meat preparation. Although not a risk to people, the virus can be deadly to dogs that are exposed to it. For more information on swine brucellosis and pseudorabies, go to http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/health-disease/pseudorabies

For more information about brucellosis and other animal diseases that can cause illness in people, please call your county health department or visit the Florida Department of Health’s website at: http://myfloridaeh.com/medicine/arboviral/Zoonoses/Zoonotic-index.html.

feral hogs invasive species management Jacksonville District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers USACE