The Trouble with Wilbur


There's nothing like a feral pig to blur the line between free food and pest management. Days after the Arizona Daily Star published a map showing feral pig populations around the state (along with a note that Arizona doesn't require licenses for hunting feral pigs), a dozen hunting parties converged on one of the hot spots: Redington, just north of Tucson. They didn't find what they were looking for, but they sure stressed out local rancher Stefanie Smallhouse:

Smallhouse said the only pigs regularly seen on the ranch are her mother-in-law's regular, domestic swine. She's afraid someone will shoot them, thinking they're wild.

The ranch previously had wild pigs, neighboring ranchers and hunting guides said, because they were released there in the 1980s. Smallhouse said she did not know what happened in the past - she only knows they rarely show up on her ranch anymore.

Feral pigs are not the same as javelinas--they're domesticated swine that escaped or were set free. Once in the wild, they quickly become ungulates from hell. According to zoologist Jack Mayer, pigs will eat almost anything with a calorie. That includes seeds, snakes, wild turkeys, baby lambs and kids (meaning goat kids, not the people variety, though they're not above eating human flesh: for vivid examples in fiction see Lost and Junot Diaz's "No Face"). In places with coastlines, feral pigs have been known to sneak up behind sea turtles during hatching time and swallow the eggs as they pop out of Mama Turtle.

With that kind of diet, it's no wonder feral pigs can get to be 200-300 pounds. The US population is 2-6 million, with half of those rooting around in Texas. Australia and Canada also have their share of pig infestations. Arizona, though, is lucky: pigs need surface water, so the state's hostile deserts keep  populations in control.

Where there is water, the pigs wreak havoc. Their waste is a menace to water quality, they dig for roots and release sediment into streams. This is a particular problem in California's San Luis Obispo County, where pigs are threatening steelhead populations by damaging riparian zones. Local rangers are hunting and trapping the pigs with the hope that some of the meat can be donated to charity. This notion got quite a positive response on the comments section. One reader wrote,

Tough and fecund critters, those pigs, and I think they’re here to stay. Still, it might be nice to see weekly pig roasts to feed the needy there at the group picnic area at Laguna Lake Park.

"Kill em and grill em," agreed another reader called Spectator. "Let a bow hunt and barbecue result, with an entry fee and profits to fish and game."

That comment was followed by this helpful hint:

ANYONE Interested in a Bow Hunting Course / Bow Licensing Class, should contact Ron McCutcheon (SLO Sportsman Association) at 234-7873.

If you're curious about wild pig recipes, keep in mind that they're much leaner than regular pigs. All that foraging sure builds up muscle mass. Then again, if you're stuck with a 300-lb carcass, here's a recipe for feral pig chile verde, to be served with "warm flour tortillas, shredded lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream and cold Mexican beer."