Wild ‘superpigs’ from Canada could soon invade some U.S. states, study suggests | CBC Radio – Daily Frontline

Quirks and Quarks8:37This little piggy escaped and wreaked havoc on crops and the environment

Invasive wild pigs in Canada are on the move and could soon spread southward to several northern United States, according to a new study.

Wild pigs are already a widespread issue in the southern U.S., with an estimated six million pigs in at least 35 states per the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Population numbers in Canada are unknown, but scientists working to document their range say that they are expanding quickly.

“They are spreading out of control as we speak,” said Ryan Brook, director of the Canadian Wild Pig Research Project. “They’re spread over an area about one million square kilometres of Canada, which is bigger than many, many countries.”

The pigs are known to be incredibly destructive, as they damage crops, spread diseases and contaminate water sources. It is estimated that the animals cause $2.5 billion US of damage each year in the U.S.

“They can be dangerous, for sure. They have killed people. They have seriously injured one of the members of our team,” Brook said. “They’re considered by most people to be one of, if not the worst, invasive species on the planet.”

University of Saskatchewan researcher Ryan Brook says wild pigs are destructive and adaptable. (Submitted by Ryan Brook)

Brook and his colleagues at the University of Saskatchewan recently led a study — funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — to look at whether Canada’s pigs pose a threat to currently pig-free northern states such as Montana, Minnesota and North Dakota.

They found that Canada’s invasive swine has a “high potential” to cross the border, and made strong recommendations on how to deal with the likely southward expansion of the species.

The research was published earlier this month in the journal Biological Invasions.

Farm escapees turned farm destroyers

Canada’s wild pigs are descendants of animals which were released or escaped from domesticated farms.

“Wild boar were brought over from the U.K. in the ’80s and ’90s to try and diversify agriculture,” Brook told Quirks & Quarks host Bob McDonald.

Those boar were then crossbred with domestic pigs to increase their size and reproduction capacity, leading to what Brook calls “superpigs” because “it supercharged their reproduction and it made them bigger.”

Brook says the biggest pig he’s captured weighed 290 kg (638 lbs). And since females can reproduce as soon as six months of age, and have multiple litters per year, “you can remove animals at a quite rapid rate, but the population doesn’t go down,” he said.

A map of the southern half of Manitoba is dotted with yellow, with the most dots in the southwestern part of the map.
Each yellow dot on this map represents a new wild pig occurrence in Manitoba in 2023, according to data collected by the Canadian wild pig research project. (Submitted by Ryan Brook)

Across Canada, the majority of pigs have been reported in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, but they have also been found in the Yukon, British Columbia and, increasingly, in Ontario.

The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) said in a statement to CBC, that they have received 80 reports of pigs in the past year.

One of the main challenges for researchers is that the pigs are incredibly difficult to spot.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions about what people expect when they hear pigs,” said Manitoba cattle producer Ben Waddle. “They just expect to drive out and see a herd of pigs somewhere. It’s not like that.”

A black and white, night vision image of three pigs standing in a field.
Because wild pigs are nocturnal and highly evasive, researchers depend heavily on trail cameras to know where the pigs are traveling. (Submitted by Ryan Brook)

Waddle says he doesn’t often see pigs around his farm, but he has frequently seen the destruction they’ve left behind.

“They’re very nocturnal, so you most often are going to see just the damage,” he said. “They go down the row just like a rototiller and they flip sod up just like you’re flipping it over with a shovel. So they do a lot of damage and in a very short amount of time.”

Action, not hunting, the solution

Brook says that hunting the animals does little to shrink their populations because shooting at the pigs makes the animals even more elusive.

“Say they shoot two or three out of a group of 10. Well, the remainder becomes even more nocturnal. They disperse across the landscape. And so if you want lots of pigs, the worst thing you can do is actually have open season hunting.”

Ontario banned the practice of hunting the pigs in 2021, and Brook hopes that the prairie provinces will follow suit.

Two large pigs and several smaller pigs are seen in a field.
Pigs tend to travel in large family groups, called sounders. Initially it was believed the domestic pigs wouldn’t breed in the wild, however females have been spotted having multiple litters per year of up to six piglets. (Submitted by Ryan Brook)

Waddle says one of the best ways to help is for people to report pig sightings, wherever they are. He works as a field technician with the group Squeal on Pigs Manitoba, which aims to limit the damage caused by pigs in the province.

“We do a lot of surveillance — putting out trail cameras, trying to get partnerships with landowners to find places where pigs are,” he said.

Once they know pigs are in an area, they can move in to trap and cull the pigs. “It’s gonna be a long, long road. There’s no quick fix,” he added.

Brook agrees, and wants to see more action to contain the pigs before their spread continues.

“I think we’ve been living in a bit of a fool’s paradise, and a lot of pretending that this isn’t that big of an issue. But it is,” he said.

“It’s here, it’s widespread and it is as out of control as any wildfire I’ve ever seen.”

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