The wild boars have adapted to Canada's harsh winters and destroyed native plant and animal species — and it seems like there's no stopping them.
During the 1980s, Canadian farmers began breeding wild boars with their domesticated swine to create larger pigs that produced more meat. Over the years, some of the animals escaped from captivity. And when market demand for their meat slowed, many of the remaining hogs were set free. The farmers didn’t think that the creatures would survive the bitter cold of Canada’s winters — but they were horribly mistaken.
Those boars’ descendants have continued to multiply, and their numbers have exploded in recent years. The result is a population of “super pigs” with a tolerance for extreme cold and the capability to birth large litters.
Now, these feral hogs roam roughly 620,000 square miles across Canada, mostly in the Prairie Provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Alberta. Many experts fear, however, that the United States might be next.
“That they can survive in such a cold climate is one of the big surprises of this issue. The Prairie Provinces are where we have the coldest winters in Canada except for the very far north,” Dr. Ryan Brook, who leads the University of Saskatchewan’s Canadian Wild Pig Research Project, told Field & Stream.
Over the course of the past two decades, these wild hogs have wreaked havoc on native Canadian species. They have a massive appetite, eat just about anything, weigh upwards of 600 pounds, and have frighteningly sharp tusks.
“Originally, it was like, ‘Wow, this is something we can hunt.’ But it’s become clear that they’re threatening our whitetail deer, elk, and especially waterfowl,” Brook said. “Not to mention the crop damage. The downsides outweigh any benefit wild hogs may have as a huntable species.”
Now, it’s looking as though this problem may soon work its way into northern regions of the United States. Already, Brook explained, the feral pigs have been seen in areas less than 10 miles from the U.S. border.
“Quite honestly, I think there have already been some in Manitoba going into North Dakota for the last five or six years,” said Brook. “There is no physical, biological boundary at the U.S.-Canada border. There is hardly any kind of fencing to speak of. There’s a real risk of pigs moving south into the U.S.”
In a separate interview with The Guardian, Brook declared, “Wild pigs are easily the worst invasive large mammal on the planet. They’re incredibly intelligent. They’re highly elusive, and also when there’s any pressure on them, especially if people start hunting them, they become almost completely nocturnal.”
On the human level, too, wild pigs cause a multitude of issues. They spread disease, destroy crops, and even pollute water supplies. Because of this, the assistant program manager for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s national feral swine damage management program, Michael Marlow, asserted that wild pigs pose “a human health and safety risk.”
Wild pigs have also been called “mixing vessels” for disease. They can carry viruses like the flu and then transfer those illnesses to humans.
In the U.S., wild pigs have primarily affected southern states since they were first introduced by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1539. When he arrived in what is now Florida, de Soto brought 13 swine with him. Within just four years, their population had grown to 700.
Today, the number of wild pigs in the U.S. is more than six million. Most weigh between 75 and 250 pounds on average, making them a good deal smaller than the Canadian “super pigs.” That hasn’t made them any easier to control, though.
Over the past decade, Marlow said his team has managed to eradicate pigs in seven states, but there is no real chance they’ll be able to get rid of them all.
Canadian authorities are taking a number of measures to try and mitigate the spread of the invasive species, but Brook likened the idea of completely eliminating them to “sort of like trying to eradicate mosquitos.”
Two of the most effective control strategies Canadian authorities have found are ground-trapping whole groups of pigs and employing a “Judas Pig.” That is, equipping a wild pig with a GPS collar and following it to the others.
“The idea is that you go and find that collared animal, remove any pigs that are with it, and in [an] ideal world then let it go again and it will just continue to find more and more pigs,” Brook said.
Still, like in the U.S., Brook doesn’t believe it’s possible to get rid of the wild pig population entirely.
“They’re just so established,” Brook said. “They’ve definitely moved in, and they’re here to stay.”
For more on the dangers of introducing invasive species, read about the bizarre introduction of the mongoose to Hawaii and the havoc it has wreaked. Or, see how the hippos Pablo Escobar brought to Colombia are still causing problems today.