Mississippi: Increased Wild Hog Population May Spread Disease to Deer, Other Wildlife

Wild hogs cost Mississippians millions of dollars each year, but landowners stand to lose more than money if the nuisance animals’ range and population continue to grow.

Left unchecked, wild hogs have the potential to steal property owners’ investments and cripple the state’s ecosystem in the process.

“We’re at a point in Mississippi where wild hogs are distributed across a high percentage of the state, and their populations are growing,” said Beth Baker, a water quality specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “This is a negative scenario for the state in terms of our natural resources.”

In 1988, wild hogs roamed 4 percent of the state’s land area. By 2009, wild hogs were present on 38 percent of land area. The increasing number and range of wild hogs is a warning sign landowners should heed.

Wild hogs’ natural behaviors — including rooting and wallowing — disturb soil and vegetation, increasing erosion. The waste they leave behind can elevate nutrients in the water and introduce harmful bacteria.

“Increased sedimentation from erosion, nutrient levels and potential bacterial contamination from the waste they leave behind is our primary concern when it comes to water quality issues related to wild hog damage,” said Baker, who is also an assistant Extension professor in the MSU Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture. “All of these factors have the potential to compromise the integrity of our lakes, streams and rivers.”

As disturbed soil erodes, excess amounts of silt and soil particles become suspended in the water, reducing water clarity. This turbidity increases water temperatures and decreases the amount of oxygen available to fish and other aquatic organisms. Murky water also inhibits photosynthesis by decreasing the amount of light available to submerged plants.

High nutrient levels cause large amounts of algae to grow. Those algae then die and are broken down by naturally occurring microorganisms, which further reduces the amount of oxygen available to aquatic life, Baker said.

Baker and MSU student Brent Chaney conducted a small water quality study this summer at the H.H. Leveck Animal Research Center in Starkville. They measured amounts of bacteria, including E.coli, in a stream near an enclosure of wild hogs.

“We gained some preliminary insights from these data, but we need to do more targeted research,” Baker said. “Areas of the state where we see a lot of hog activity would be the most likely places to further investigate the potential for water bodies to become contaminated.”

Bronson Strickland, an Extension wildlife biologist and management specialist, said the bacteria and diseases wild hogs introduce into water bodies can increase risk of illness among other wildlife, including deer and migratory waterfowl.

“In late summer, when wild hogs and wildlife are more likely to use the same water sources, our native species stand an increased risk of contracting bacteria and diseases that can make them sick or kill them, or that they can pass on to other wildlife,” he said. “Deer can pick up an infection carried by wild hogs that can cause them to be infertile.”

Strickland said Mississippi wild hog populations have not reached epidemic proportions on a statewide basis, but scientists know the invasive pests are growing and spreading. Extension personnel are working with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to determine the impacts wild hogs are having on native wildlife populations.

“We want to know if there are places in Mississippi that are experiencing really high populations of hogs and declining populations of deer, but we need to do that in a scientific way to learn how hogs are affecting deer and other wildlife,” Strickland said.

In the meantime, the best way for landowners to protect their property is to scout for hogs or signs that the animals are living on the property.

“In areas where wild hogs are hunted, you may only see their signs. You may never see the hogs during daylight hours,” Strickland said. “It’s important to scout your property and take the proper steps to trap them if you see evidence of their presence. It’s also important to report any illegal transport or release of wild hogs that you see.”

For more information on wild hog signs and trapping, visit Extension’s website. To report illegal transport or release of wild hogs, call 1-800-BE-SMART.

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