We appreciate the excellent science produced by employees of the federal government of the USA, both the theoretical and applied problems they tackle depending on their specialty. Thanks to those who deal with creatures like this, who have in common with their feline counterparts in some locations the misfortune of bumping up against human interests. Figuring them out and accommodating them humanely seems a worthy scientific cause:
by Rae Ellen Bichell
In the foothills of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, a gravel road leads to a 10-foot-tall fence. Type in a key code, and a gate scrapes open. Undo a chain to get behind another. Everything here is made of metal, because the residents of this facility are experts at invasion and destruction.
They’re wild pigs, aka feral swine, wild hogs or Sus scrofa. And biologists at the National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins have invented a promising new way to track the invasive animals by looking for tiny traces of them in mud and water.
Biologist Morgan Wehtje points to a boar who’s asking her to scratch his bristled back. At 280 pounds, he weighs about as much as an NFL tight end. “His name is Makunakane, which means ‘Big Papa’ in Hawaiian,” says Wehtje. The smaller pigs, like a female named Bobbie Socks, weigh about 150 pounds. They’re dense and compact, says Wehtje, “which is why if they were to run at you they’d take you out.”
Wehtje and her colleagues study the biology and behavior of these pigs, which were raised in captivity. They’re playing in the snow and scoping out the fence with their wet snouts. But their wild, much less cuddly counterparts are destroying the landscape in most U.S. states — producing an estimated $1.5 billion in damage per year.
These animals will eat anything, from rows of corn to sea turtle eggs, to baby deer and goats.
“People don’t realize that wild pigs are voracious predators,” says Jack Mayer, a biologist with the Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken, S.C., who has studied wild pigs for 40 years. “They will run down and kill and eat lamb, sheep, goats, calves, domestic chickens.”
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