Thursday, December 18, 2008

In a feral pig's ear

As if there isn't enough to worry about, The Economist on December 6th had an article on the five million feral hogs that roam the US, where they:

...destroy the habitats of plants and animals, spread diseases, damage crops, kill and eat the eggs and young of wildlife and sometimes menace people with their aggressive behaviour.

The "u" in behavior is The Economist's; the italics are mine.

These critters have been around since the time of the conquistadors, who brought herds of cerdos with them, and sometimes lost track of a few strays. Other pigs were released into commercial hunting preserves for sport. Still others are being let go by pig farmers who find it cheaper to release some of their free-loading stock into the wild that it is to feed them.

One rabbit-y thing leads to another, and, Houston, we have a pig problem.

And Houston it is - or at least Texas it is: the greatest number of menacing, feral pigs are in Texas. But they're now present in 38 states.

To put my feral-fearing mind at ease, I checked out the Federal Government's recently updated (November 24, 2008) map o' swine to see if there are any in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Fortunately, as far as feral swine go, Massachusetts is not a blue state, and the nearest sightings have been on the Pennsylvania-New York State border.

But this is small comfort. If you look at the 1982 feral swine map, it's clear to see that these little piggies are on the move - and heading this way.

Did I say little piggies?

These suckers can grow plenty large - The Economist article noted a rumored catch of one Hogzilla - 12 feet long and weighing in at 1,000 pounds.

Hot dog!

Living in the city as I do, most of the wildlife I encounter is likely to be a pigeon, rat, make-way-for-ducklings duck, or Canada goose. Sometimes I see a hawk or a comorant. Once in a blue moon, I've seen a racoon or smelled a skunk. There are wild turkeys stalking the area where my sister Kath lives in Brookline, and I saw a few of those pinheads strutting around near her house just a few weeks ago.

Most of my close encounters with nature occur out of town. At Kath's at the Cape, we sometimes hear coyotes at night, and I've seen a ton of seals on the beach not far from Wellfleet. Plus crabs, of course. There's one walk-to-the-beach that takes us through a veritable horse-shoe crab graveyard. (Who knew horse-shoe crabs could be the size of a Mini-Cooper?)

In my camping days, I saw plenty of bear - including finding two cubs playing in the well of our tent one time. That night, fellow campers, was spent sitting up in the car.

Anyway, we're coping with a feral economy, feral terrorists, asteroids that - if not exactly feral - may well be wild, and heading our way for the ultimate splashdown. And now I have to worry about the encroachment of 1,000 pound feral pigs, with their gouging tusks and bristling coats. (See how that damned evolution works? Those cute little piglets evolve into vile hairy beasts. And I bet they don't even make very good bacon.)

Anyone spotting a feral pig heading Northeast, please drop a line to feralpig@uga.edu. (I'll be on the lookout.)

Meanwhile, I'm staying put.

1 comment:

Rick said...

Perfect timing. Today's WSJ has an article about Tony Foster, a watercolorist who does landscapes in unlikely, often dangerous locations. A link won't work, since the WSJ requires a paying subscription, but, if you don't mind a long cut and paste, here is his story about an encounter with wild pigs: "I suppose the most kind of instant danger I've encountered was when I was working in the [Costa Rican] rain forest," the 62-year-old said here on a recent Sunday afternoon, after a lecture at the Autry Center for Western Art. "I'd been told to look out for white-lipped peccaries: They're wild pigs, which sounds innocuous enough, but in fact they gang together, 20 or 30 of them, and they act together; and they're quite capable of knocking you down, knocking you out, and chewing you up. People have been killed by them.

"And I was sitting in a dried-up riverbed, painting a cashew-nut tree, when these peccaries lined up on either side of the riverbank; and they obviously wanted cashew nuts. I was sitting drawing, and when they're angry, they clatter their teeth together -- if you can imagine a suitcase full of false-teeth being tipped onto a tile floor, it's that kind of tremendous clattering noise. And they all started clattering at me, and lined up along the riverbank, and then charged . . . at me.

"The scientist I was working with had said, 'If you see white-lipped peccaries, run up a tree.' But there wasn't a tree I could run up. So I put my drawing-board above my head and ran back at these peccaries, shouting obscenities at them at the top of my lungs, and they sort of retreated back up the bank. And then I went and sat down again, thinking they were probably going away. But they kept coming back, and I kept charging back at them; and this sort of charge and countercharge went on for probably 20 minutes. In the end, finally, they ran back up the bank, and I ran in the opposite direction and left them to it. Afterwards, I heard from an anthropologist who'd lived many years in the jungle; and he said that the only animal he was really frightened of was the white-lipped peccary."