Base ‘residents’ going hog wild

  • Published
  • By Kendahl Johnson
  • 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
No, pigs haven't begun to fly, but many of the undomesticated variety have been enjoying a flight of fancy into the more populated areas at Robins during the last few months.

Bob Sargent, the base natural resources manager in the 78th Civil Engineer Group, said feral hogs are very common at Robins, but they normally stick to the swamp terrain in the floodplain to the east. In mid-October, they began venturing farther out in search of acorns and other food sources.

The drought conditions Georgia has experienced in recent years have led to food shortages in the hogs' normal habitat. The animals prefer to forage in moist soil and, because they're prone to overheating, also like to be near soggy landscapes where they can wallow. Hogs are particularly attracted to areas that are irrigated, such as the golf course and housing areas near forests. Fresh sod and mulch hold a lot of moisture and can be fertile areas full of their preferred foods.

"We've removed 16 hogs from the fringes of the golf course in the past five weeks," Sargent said. "The hogs root up the sod and mulch in search of worms, causing damage to the course, so it becomes problematic and expensive."

Hogs have always been an issue that Sargent, a wildlife biologist, has had to deal with here, and it isn't just about protecting base assets.

"Feral hogs prey on the young of native wild mammals, reptiles and amphibians," Sargent said. "They eat eggs from the nests of turkeys and alligators, and turtles, damage vegetation, including rare plants, and consume agricultural crops such as corn and vegetables. They compete with native species such as deer and bears for resources like acorns and hickory nuts, and probably lower the population size and survival of native species."

They also can uncommonly carry diseases such as pseudo rabies and brucellosis, which can be transmitted to livestock, with sometimes fatal results. Sargent said people who handle the meat of wild hogs should take precautions to ensure they don't get fluids from the animals on their skin, and they should thoroughly cook the meat.

Part of the problem is that feral hogs are prolific breeders. They can reproduce at least twice a year and have six to 10 piglets in a litter. Piglets are weaned at four months, and often the sow is already pregnant with her next litter. Few creatures in the wild pose much of a threat to the adults, which can exceed 300 pounds (or much more), but some species such as coyotes will prey on young hogs. Sargent has instituted several programs to help curb growing hog populations. One is an extended hunting program. Permitted hunters can hunt feral hogs on Robins from September to May, four months longer than the typical hog-hunting season.

"There are 1,300 acres where people can hunt," Sargent said. "It's not only a great recreational opportunity but also helps us regulate the population size of wildlife, conserving habitats and protecting manicured landscapes, keeping animals off the airfield and mostly out of housing areas, and reducing car collisions with wildlife."

In 2000, Sargent instituted a trapping program, where volunteers can obtain permits to trap hogs. There are currently 12 people permitted to trap hogs on base and more than 150 hogs have been trapped this year, including several dozen by Terry Owens.

"I've been trapping hogs since I was a teenager," said Owens, 78th Civil Engineer Group. "It's a fun hobby. We have cook-outs at work, and I give meat to friends and whoever wants it." Trappers are prohibited from selling the hogs.

Sargent said wild hogs shouldn't be approached.

"As with any wild animal, I tell people to steer clear," he said. "While they're not a serious threat, if they feel cornered they could become aggressive."