Russian Wild Boars at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The National Park Service (NPS) is well known for its robust efforts in the area of environmental and wildlife management. In 1959, the two clashed in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, forcing park officials to delicately weigh their solution.
The Great Smoky Mountains are home to many mountain summits or crests populated by native grasses, shrubs, and small bushes. Otherwise known as balds, trees don’t usually grow in these areas due to short growing seasons. In the summer of 1959, park officials noticed a good deal of root damage occurring on the park’s scenic balds. This sort of damage could quickly lead to erosion and the destruction of the thick azalea patches that dominate the landscape. It didn’t take officials long to determine that they had a hog problem.
This area of Tennessee was known for its feral hog population, which typically kept to the thick underbrush of the surrounding forests. Park officials soon found out, however, that there was an increasingly large population of the Russian (also known as European) wild boar, a species first introduced to the area in 1912 after several dozen hogs escaped from a North Carolina hunting reserve.
The Russian wild boar could grow to over 600 pounds and measure up to six feet long. Unlike its feral cousins, the Russian wild boar’s main food source were grubs, and there was no better source for these critters than the balds found throughout Great Smoky. Rangers believed the influx of grubs in these areas was due to the extensive cattle grazing in the area before the establishment of the park. This non-native invasive boar could cause widespread damage to the park’s ecosystem.
Rangers, working with Tennessee game management personnel, undertook a two-step approach to their predicament—immediate boar removal and grub elimination. Hired hunters performed weekly patrols of park lands, checking hog traps and shooting free-roaming boars. The elimination of grubs in the grassy balds also made the areas less attractive to the remaining boar population.
The wild boar problem at Great Smoky Mountain National Park didn’t end in 1959. In fact, NPS wildlife managers continue to trap and shoot wild hogs to stop habitat destruction and the spread of disease to this day. According to the NPS website for Great Smoky, wildlife managers remove about 275 hogs from the park every year in an attempt to mitigate their damage to the ecosystem. The NPS works cooperatively with various federal, state, and local agencies to control the wild boar population.
You can learn more about the National Park Service’s wildlife management efforts at Great Smoky Mountain National Park on their website. You can also listen to an NPR interview with one of the wildlife managers employed by the National Park Service on their website.
The Wild Hog in America:
There are many tales circulating as to when the wild hogs were introduced into America. History does reveal that some of the first stock was domestic swine released around farms to either root hog or die. In the spring, the hogs were often tolled up, captured in traps where they were marked to show ownership and then either released or taken to market.
The first true wild boars to be brought into this country were introduced into a game park in Sullivan County, New Hampshire, by Austin Corbin in the early 1890s from the Black Forest of Germany. Another introduction of wild European boar was made in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and has been the subject of quite a debate. Some believe the Great Smoky Mountain boars were captured in Germany’s Black Forest and imported to the region by an adventurer named Barnes. Others are convinced that two North Carolina brothers imported several Russian boars after World War II into the Great Smoky Mountain region.
Actually, in the early part of the 20th century, an Englishman named George Moore leased a large portion of land near Hooper Bald, located a few miles past the Tennessee and North Carolina state line in North Carolina, to set up a game sanctuary. Then, in 1910, he brought in crates filled with several wild boars. The animals were released on the preserve and eventually escaped into the Great Smoky Mountains where they bred and interbred with feral and domestic hogs. Although the name Russian boar today is used frequently in the Great Smoky Mountains area, a pure strain of the Russian hogs is yet to be documented in the region.
The wild hogs I was to hunt on the Bostick Plantation (www.bostick-plantation.com) in South Carolina were a remnant of the European hogs brought over by the early settlers and released on the land. When fence laws were enacted in Georgia and South Carolina, farmers there attempted to round-up all the wild hogs and lock them up behind fences, but the hogs proved to be stronger than the fences. Farmers soon realized that when feral pigs decided to stay in a briar thicket, there was very little anyone could do to get them out. Because the animals were so prolific and adaptable to a river bottom swamp situation, capturing all the pigs never has been possible in the Savannah River swamp.
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Wild Boar: Lean & Rich
he wild boar is an Old World species that existed since before the Ice Age. Evidence suggests that the wild boar, ancestor of the domesticated pig, was in human association perhaps as early as 13,000 B.C. Native wild boar can be found throughout Northern and Central Europe, the Mediterranean and as far south as Indonesia. In many of these cultures wild boar meat has figured prominently in the traditional diet.
The pigs that Spanish explorers first brought to the Americas were likely of the Iberian breed, a small, lean, tusked pig with a straight back, long narrow snout and small bristles. These first pigs adapted well in their new environment and many found their way to freedom, creating a population of feral pigs in the Americas.
Populations of wild boar were later introduced to North America for hunting in the 1890s, and again in several phases during the first half of the 20th century. Though they began on hunting preserves, some wild boar escaped and mated with feral descendants of domesticated pigs. So the wild boar of today are usually a hybrid breed, with characteristics of both Eurasian boars and feral pigs. The USDA requires that the meat from these animals be labeled as &ldquoferal swine,&rdquo because the breed is indistinct.
Free-Range Wild Boar
Wild boar live a truly free-range lifestyle in the United States today. The trouble with wild boar is that they are now present in 39 states and number in the millions. They eat agricultural crops, root in gardens and destroy native grasses. Wild boar will prey upon livestock like lambs, kids, calves and other young animals. Farmers and ranchers are less than pleased with the presence of wild boar, so hunting is encouraged in many states where the boar have become a nuisance.
Texas is a state that is overrun with wild boar. There is a program to cut their numbers, which includes hunting and trapping. The humane trapping option involves large cages that trap but do not harm the wild boar. They are then taken to a USDA inspected slaughter house, where they are processed as domesticated hogs would be. D'Artagnan partners with experienced trappers in Texas to provide the best wild boar meat on the hoof.
Eating Wild Boar
Wild boar meat is similar to pork, but there are a few differences worth noting. As a game meat, wild boar meat is leaner and tends to be darker red than ordinary pork. Wild boar meat has an intense, sweet and nutty flavor, due in part to its wild diet of grasses and nuts and forage.
Cook wild boar at lower temperatures than other meats. Keep it low and cook it slow. Do avoid overcooking, as the lean meat will dry out quickly. If your wild boar meat is frozen, do not defrost in a microwave, since this tends to dry and toughen meat. Marinating wild boar meat overnight can do wonders, as the marinade will tenderize as it imparts flavor. But cuts such as the tenderloin do not need marinating or slow cooking. You can simply pan sear wild boar tenderloin at high heat until it reaches an internal temperature of 140-145 degrees Fahrenheit, as this recipe demonstrates. Use lean wild boar chuck meat in stews and ragouts to change up your game. Go hog wild with boar meat at your next cook out, or roast a wild boar shoulder for a family feast.
Arkansas was known for its razorback hogs long before the University of Arkansas mascot came into being. These wild boars were called razorbacks because of their high, hair-covered backbone and ill-mannered temper. The razorback hog was considered ruthless and dangerous when backed into a corner.
The true wild boar, also called the European or Russian boar, is not native to the United States. Christopher Columbus introduced their domesticated ancestors to the New World in 1493. Wild boars are thought to have arrived with explorer Hernando de Soto, who brought the original thirteen grunting hogs to the new world in 1539, though this theory has lately been cast into doubt by Charles Hudson, who reconstructs de Soto’s path in his book, Knights Of Spain, Warriors Of The Sun (University of Georgia Press, 1997).
Domestic swine arrived in Arkansas with the first settlers. Many escaped from their pens and headed for the hills, where they established breeding grounds and roamed town streets. Over time, these feral pigs interbred with their wild counterparts and became what we now call “wild boars.” Settlers would trap the hogs in large pens and take them to market. This practice continued into the twentieth century, but the Depression forced many farmers to leave their country lifestyle for a more stable life in town. Today, feral hogs are present in more than fifty Arkansas counties.
The most common color for feral hogs is black. Boars have long, bristly hair, high shoulders, a sloping rump, long, skinny legs, and small hips. The massive wedge-shaped head with short, hairy, erect ears ends in a pointed snout. The nose is almost round and looks and feels somewhat soft but must be one of the most efficient rooting machines of any animal. Boars dig up fields of crops with ease.
A mature male is 4′ to 5′ long and weighs 150–300 pounds. Females are slightly smaller. The boar has long tusks. The upper tusks rub against the lower ones and sharpen them. The boar’s body armor of fat, gristle, and tendons can be more than an inch thick. It starts around the neck and extends just past the lower ribs.
Boars adapt to various habitats as long as there is a reliable source of water. If they have a weakness, it is a low tolerance for heat. They make “wallows” to cool and protect themselves from insects and lice. A lot of the wild hogs in Arkansas are found in swampy terrain.
Wild boars are intelligent, equipped with keen senses, swift, wary, easily agitated, and aggressive when cornered. They can move thirty-five miles per hour and are constantly on the move, even when feeding.
Problems with wild hogs are numerous. They uproot plants and will eat anything they can catch, including young mammals. They destroy terrestrial and aquatic vegetation, ruin water holes used by other wildlife, and contribute to erosion and siltation, which can degrade water quality. They can transmit brucellosis and other diseases to domestic animals. There have been cases in Arkansas of feral hogs transmitting brucellosis and trichinosis to humans.
Despite the problems hogs cause, they provide great hunting opportunities for the expert hunter. There are still wild hogs roaming free on Arkansas Game and Fish and federal hunting lands.
For additional information:
“Feral Hogs.” Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. https://www.agfc.com/en/hunting/feral-hogs/ (accessed September 16, 2019).
Foti, Thomas, and Gerald Hanson. Arkansas and the Land. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1992.
Lancaster, Bob. “The Adelantado’s Pigs.” Arkansas Times, January 1986, 65–76.
- Wild pigs have been reported in at least 45 states
- Populations now exist as far north as Michigan, North Dakota, and Oregon
- Range expansion over the last 20 years is mostly a result of illegal translocation of pigs by humans
Distribution of Feral Pigs in the United States in 2014 (Courtesy of Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, University of Georgia).Wild pigs awaiting transport to an undisclosed location.
Though most people don&rsquot think about it often, much of what we eat has been fermented. The list includes yogurt, cheeses, vinegar, beer, bread, wine, soy sauce, deli-style dill pickles, salami and cured meats like salami, chorizo and pepperoni. It works by transforming the sugars in the foods into acidic compounds that enhance flavor and aid in preservation. In many cases, the fermentation process also increases the availability of vitamins and nutrients in the food and makes it more easily digestible.
Wild Boar Life History & Reproduction
105. Depending upon the climate and availability of food, the female boar will have one to three breeding cycles per year.
106. In Italy, the births are concentrated from the end of spring to the end of summer.
107. Female boar tend to synchronize their cycles in such a way as to raise litters of the same age together and, hence, maximise the possibility of their survival.
Wild Boar Facts: Wild boar mating habits
108. During the mating season, male boar abandon their solitary life and join the sounders. They often cover long distances without stopping for food or rest in order to reach the sounder as soon as possible. No forward planning then!
109. The first thing a male boar does upon joining the sounder is to remove the young offspring still living with their mothers.
110. The presence of numerous males within the group generates tensions that are often resolved in violent combat.
111. During this period the male boar develops an "armour" of cutenaneous and adipose thickening that covers the shoulders until the height of the last rib.
112. When in combat the male boar butt head against head, parrying the blows with their "armour". This does not, however, prevent the procurement of all lesions, including serious ones.
113. Before this real combat begins, male boar complete a series of ritual face to face threats with the spraying of urine, the scraping of the ground, the violent knocking of teeth and the frothing of saliva to intimidate their adversaries.
114. Only if this ritual doesn't discourage one of the boar, does combat begin.
115. The winner then commences courtship of the females in the sounder by following the nearest female and emitting a sound similar to the rumble of an internal combustion engine.
116. When he reaches her he starts to massage her back and flanks with his snout, emitting at the same time rhythmical sounds. The female, when ready to couple, becomes immobile, appears hypnotized, and allows the male to mount her. The coupling lasts about five minutes.
117. The male boar then repeats the whole courtship ritual with other females within the group - up to eight for the stronger and more vigorous males - until the females breeding cycle comes to an end.
At which point he abandons the group until the next time and returns to his solitary life.
118. The gestation period for the wild boar is up to five months. In Italy, popular expression describes the gestation period as "tre mesi, tre settimane, e tre giorni" - three months, three weeks, and three days.
119. When the female is near to giving birth - called "farrowing" - she isolates herself from the rest of the sounder to construct a lair within thick vegetation, similar to those constructed as resting places for the night.
120. The females lair often have openings to the south so as to aid heating of the lair from the suns rays.
Wild Boar Facts: Wild boar piglets
121. It is here that the wild boar piglets are born: varying in number from three to twelve per litter.
122. Upon birth the piglets eyes are open and they scrable to find one of the mothers twelve nipples.
123. The coat of the piglets is brownish or reddish/ruddy, with four or five horizontal stripes of between white and beige, and further striations along their shoulders and posterior.
124. This colouring provides the young with a good camouflage as it perfectly mimics that of the woodland undergrowth and blankets of dead leaves.
125. The arrangement of the wild boar piglets stripes varies from piglet to piglet and so it is possible to recognise individual young within a litter.
126. The stripes fade by the time the piglet is about half-grown, when the animal takes on the adult's grey or brown colouring.
127. During the first week after giving birth, the female boar very rarely leaves the lair and litter. If she does so, she covers the piglets with branches and leaves.
128. Female boar are extremely protective towards their young and during the development of the litter will attack any intruder who could represent a threat to them. It is particularly dangerous, therefore, to walk through woods known to be home to "cinghiale" during the breeding season.
129. At a week old the piglets are able to follow their mother outside of the lair, returning only at night.
130. At two weeks old, the piglets begin to root for and eat solid food. They continue to suckle, however, until they reach three months of age.
131. Weaning is completed only after the four months and it is only then that the female re-joins the sounder with her young. It is also at four months that the piglets loose their immature coloring and take on the colouring of young adults.
132. Wild boar piglets become independent at seven months old, but tend to remain with their mother until about a year old when they are driven away by the adult males at the next breeding cycle (if not beforehand).
133. Female boar become sexually mature at around a year and a half of age, whilst male boar do so later at around two years old.
134. It is rare, however, for a young male to mate for the first time before the age of five due to competition from older males.
Wild Boar Facts: Life span of wild boars
135. Wild boars live for about ten years, but can reaches ages of up to thirty years.
Control For Landowners
Landowners have more opportunity than ever before to control wild hogs on their properties.
They can shoot wild hogs year-round during the day without limit and trap with bait outside of big game seasons. Furthermore, landowners may obtain an exemption from their TWRA regional office enabling them to kill wild hogs at night using a spotlight, and to trap year-round. In addition, landowners in a four-county (Fentress, Cumberland, Pickett, and Overton) experimental area may use dogs as a wild hog control method.
Family members and tenants that qualify under the Farmland Owner License Exemption and up to ten additional designees may help private landowners with wild hog control efforts. For properties over 1000 acres, an additional designee per 100 acres may be assigned.
No licensing requirements exist for landowners or their designees. In order to renew each year, exemption holders are required to report the number of hogs killed on their property and the manner in which they were killed to TWRA.
Landowners may use the following methods:
- Any weapon and ammunition legal for taking big game and small game during daylight hours only.
- Live traps with bait. Bait may not be used during big game hunting seasons without an exemption from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. All targeted animals must be dispatched before removal from trap.
- Additional methods may be authorized by obtaining an exemption from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. These exemptions may include:
- The use of dogs as part of the experimental eradication program in Overton, Fentress, Cumberland, and Pickett counties. Dogs may not be used during November or December.
- Shooting at night with the aid of artificial light, shooting over bait during big game season, or any other methods as approved by TWRA.
- This Proclamation acknowledges the significant importance of Tennessee’s agricultural industry to the State’s economy and well-being. It is further acknowledged that wild, or wild appearing, hogs have a growing detrimental impact to this industry. In consideration of this, and noting in particular the challenges faced in dispatching wild hogs throughout a crop’s growing season, the Executive Director may authorize the use of alternative manner and means of dispatching wild hogs by Agency personnel and/or their representative to protect agricultural property from such impacts.
Licensed Big Game Hunters may use the following means:
Wild Boar Haniwa - History
The European wild boar first appeared in the 1940's in the southwestern corner of the park, and since has spread westward to occupy all but portions of the southeastern corner (Bratton 1974 pers. corres.). Temporary intrusions have been observed as far as Cataloochee in the questionable area (Tom Kluse pers. corres.) (Figure 1). The invasion pattern may have been complicated by the presence of feral domestic swine around the border of the park and by introductions of European wild boar into nearby hunting lands.
|Figure 1. Map of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park showing area inhabited by boar (shaded) and questionable area (?) where only intrusions have been observed.|
The rate of invasion was 44 km from 1948 (approximate) to 1972 or 1.8 km per year, but greatly increased between 1972 to 1975 when pigs crossed Highway 441 and arrived in Cosby (8 km per year). This last eruptive burst was no doubt influenced by introduction of boar outside of Cosby where residents were reporting damage in 1973, the same year boar reportedly crossed Highway 441 near Sugarlands. In comparison, Caughley (1970) reported on a similar eruption of introduced Himalayan thar ( Hemitragus jemlahicus ) into new range in New Zealand at an average rate of 1.1 km per year.
Habitat is quite different in the eastern portion of the park at higher elevations. Whittaker (1956) described more extensive blocks of spruce-fir habitat and the occurrence of spruce fir forests at lower elevations than in eastern areas. S. P. Bratton (pers. corres.) has suggested that these more massive blocks of spruce-fir are poorer habitat for boar and their presence may have a significant effect upon boar invasion rates and patterns. Chris Egar (pers. corres.) analyzed some 40 spruce-fir stands in the park in 1976 and observed no hog rooting, although rooting was common in adjacent beech/birch stands west of Highway 441.
The history of the control effort was compiled from Park Service records kept in the office of the Resources Manager. It is known that the records are incomplete, especially for records of any animals shot during the periods when it was agreed to trap and transport all boar to the adjacent states. The magnitude of the under-estimating bias is not known.
Control efforts began in 1959, when the rooting of western grassy balds, Parsons and Gregory, received attention in local newspapers and amongst the park staff. From 1959 to 1975, 927 boar were taken in the park through the control program. Of the 927, 626 (67.5 percent) were trapped and 301 (32.5 percent) were shot.
The yearly breakdown of boar taken is provided in Figure 2, along with corresponding guesses (not estimates) of the population size in 1959 and 1976. The 1959 figure is provided by Linzey and Linzey (1971) and the 1976 guess was based upon population estimates for nearby Tellico Game Management Area (R. Conley, pers. corres.) extended for the 80 percent of the park now occupied by boar. Habitat differences between the two areas are numerous, but wide distribution of boar in the area involved, the fact that the population is lightly harvested, and preliminary census work in 1976, all tend to support the 1,920 estimate.
|Figure 2. Harvest of European wild boar during the control program, 1959-75, in comparison to hypothetical population size.|
Figure 2 is oversimplified. European wild boar are known to fluctuate greatly in numbers in response to mast crop and weather, and apparently have done so in the Great Smoky Mountains (Duncan 1974 K. Higgins pers. corres.). Rate of increase was probably exponential. The estimates suggest that the Park control program has probably never taken more than 8-13 percent of the population present, based upon the best guesses available at this point. Bratton (1974b), based upon a review of European literature on the wild boar, suggested that harvests of at least 25 percent would be needed to stabilize a population and harvests of 50 percent to reduce it. The actual level of harvest needed varies between years in relation to weather and mast crop and in relation to the sex and age classes taken.
The locations of boar taken in the control programs are presented in Figure 3 many locations could not be found. Boar were primarily taken at lower elevations, in off-season (late fall to early spring), and primarily along access roads. These patterns reflect the part-time status of the control work for regular Park Rangers and Fire Control Technicians.
|Figure 3. Locations of European wild boar taken during the control program, 1959-75.|
Fox (1972) evaluated the efficiency of control techniques in the park. Trap efficiency, with the types used, was very low (1.4 percent success rate for trap nights), but was significantly increased if the trap was placed near fresh hog sign. The most efficient technique was hunting at night while walking (9.7 man hours per hog removed). In addition, other wildlife speciescrows, raccoons, turkeys, white-tailed deerwere active at the trap sites and reduced trap success. Boar removed by shooting were usually mature animals. Immature animals were often taken by trapping, the amount depended upon the timing of farrowing periods.
The control program in the Smokies yielded a total of 502 (54.2 percent) females and 425 (45.8 percent) males. Weight classes (age was not determined) suggested similar age selection to the aged sample of Duncan (1974). Information on the sex and age distribution of the free ranging population is lacking, however, these data are similar to other known populations, and suggest that the control program was unbiased towards sex and age groups. Eastern Tennessee is characterized by a high proportion of yearlings. For example, yearling classes were 21 percent in the park (Duncan 1974), 23.4 percent in nearby Tellico (Conley et. al. 1972), as compared to 9 percent in Poland and 13 percent in the Soviet Union (Sludski 1956). Both Tennessee populations are expanding (Tellico is heavily harvested) and are not subject to wolf predation. The survival rate of yearlings is apparently excellent.