Northern US states are on alert as an out-of-control population of so-called “super pigs” begin to swell past the Canadian border. Recent aerial surveys have spotted them on the US side of the Canada-North Dakota border. At least one sighting has also been recorded within 18 miles of the Minnesota border.
While many southern US states already have fairly large feral swine populations, northern states have largely avoided their invasion due to the harsh winter conditions. These super pigs out of Canada, however, were specifically bred to endure deep winter in the northern latitudes. First bred in the 1980s, they are a cross between European wild boar and domestic pigs.
Dr. Ryan Brook, head of a University of Saskatchewan research program, says the pigs survive due to their unique behavior. The super pigs appear to burrow into the snow, making snow caves and tunnels, and lining them with cattails for warmth. This, along with their voracious, omnivorous feeding habits and incredible fertility make them a menace to land and wildlife wherever they live.
Brooks, who has been tracking the Canadian super pigs’ spread through Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba for decades, says the rate at which the population is expanding is startling. A sow can have six piglets in a litter and raise two litters in a year. To put it another way, that means the population would continue to increase even if as much as 65% of the population could be killed every year, according to Brook. And killing even a fraction of that would likely be a challenge.
According to Brook, the success rate for hunters is only about 2% to 3%. In fact, researchers say hunting them often make the problem worse. That’s because it makes the extremely intelligent animals even more elusive, often nocturnal, and in turn even harder to hunt and control. Some states have even banned hunting because of this unintended effect. Most northern states, including North Dakota and Montana, also currently have game regulations prohibiting the hunting of feral swine to avoid incentivizing people to release the species.
It’s not known for sure how many super pigs exist but Brooks and his team have documented some 62,000 sightings in Canada, including the sightings in North Dakota and near the Minnesota border. Brook told the AP in an interview that nobody should be surprised when the super pigs start walking across the border. “The question is: What will be done about it?”
Brooks says Montana has been the most serious about keeping wild pigs out of the state, with a ban on raising and transporting the animals within its borders. In Minnesota, officials are expected to release a report in February identifying gaps in its current management plan. The USDA is also flying surveillance aircraft and drones along the Canadian border.
The USDA says feral swine are now present in at least 35 US states, with an estimated population of around 6 million. The agency has a program specifically dedicated to eradicating wild pigs, the National Feral Swine Management Program, which provides more information and resources HERE.