Living Sanibel: Wild Boar (Sus scrofa)
Other names: Wild Pig, Razorback, European Boar, Boar, Feral Pig, Feral Swine, Piney Woods Rooter / Status: FL = thriving, IUCN = LC / Length: 2.9-6 ft (.09-1.8 m) / Height at shoulder: 30-42 in. (76-109 cm) / Weight: 110-420 lb (50-190 kg) / Life span: to 20 years / Breeds: throughout SW Florida / Found: AC, coastal, near coast, inland / Months Found: JFMAMJJASOND.
The European wild boar is one of the most destructive invasive species ever introduced into North America. Originally transported by Hernando de Soto to the gulf coast of Florida in 1539 as domestic livestock, these escaped pigs have now expanded their range northward to the upper peninsula of Michigan, westward to California, and eastward to Virginia. Texas and Florida have the largest populations of wild hogs. In Texas the wild boar is outcompeting the native collared peccary, or javelina, which seldom weighs more than 50 pounds.
In Florida the wild boar population is estimated in excess of 500,000. More than 100,000 wild boars are taken by hunters in the Sunshine State annually, ‘though this impressive harvest is still inadequate for keeping the soaring population in check. It breeds year round; the sow is capable of producing two litters a year, with as many as 12 piglets per litter. Left unchecked, the wild hog population in Florida could easily overwhelm the balance of nature and do immeasurable harm to other species by consuming too much of the available food sources. A single 400-pound boar can devour bushels of acorns in a week, leaving little for the other acorn-eating species such as deer, wild turkeys, opossums, raccoons, armadillos, and any number of birds. The wild boar also eats snakes, carrion, refuse, insects, and reptiles.
Another problem with the wild boar is its habit of using its six-inch tusks to root out grubs, roots, and tubers, causing irreparable damage to the understory of forests and pastureland. As a result, many of the region’s parks and preserves such as Myakka River State Park have ongoing trapping operations to reduce or (optimistically) eliminate, the wild boar from the ecosystem. The hogs taken from these traps are sold by the trappers as game meat.
The wild boar story has a silver lining. In the 1920s and 1930s Florida’s white-tailed deer population was intentionally eradicated by the state because it was believed to be transmitting diseases to Florida’s domestic cattle. With the deer population down to 20,000 animals statewide, the only substantial food source left for the Florida panther became the wild boar. This allowed the panther to survive into the 21st century. Today the deer population has rebounded, but feral pigs, especially piglets, still play an important part in the panther’s survival.
The trouble with the panther’s diet of wild pig is that swine are known vectors of diseases. One of these is pseudorabies, a disease similar to rabies that is fatal to panthers. Another common disease is swine brucellosis, which can be fatal to humans as well. Care should always be taken when handling wild boar meat as both the mucous and blood can transmit disease, including trichinosis.
With a half-million wild hogs out there, it is unlikely Florida will ever be free of this intelligent and adaptive omnivore. Its primary cause of mortality is hunting by humans, followed by predation of smaller hogs by panthers; predation of piglets by owls, eagles, coyotes, bobcats, and black bears; and, finally, cannibalization by solitary male boars. Although not inherently dangerous to humans, a cornered or wounded boar wielding six-inch tusks is a formidable threat, and care should always be exercised when encountering one of these animals in the wild.