This Valentine’s Day the Byron Forest Preserve wants you to cuddle up on the couch and watch a free Zoom lecture about keeping feral swine out of Illinois.
Feral swine are also known as feral hogs, wild boar, Russian boar, Eurasian boar or razorbacks. They are the same species (sus scrofa) as pigs found on farms -- but are considered feral because they are the descendants of escaped or released pigs. They look similar to farm hogs, but are leaner, have coarser fur and grow longer tusks.
Peggy Doty is an environmental and energy stewardship educator with the Illinois Extension and she will deliver the lecture. She says there's a population of swine that are unrestrained and have adapted to living wild and free in 40 states, including Illinois.
Doty says the main reason we have these invasive species is because people are deliberately moving them into the state for sport.
"They aren't naturally falling into Illinois," she said. "They're being hauled in most of the time by truckload or trailer for sport hunting -- so brought in and released -- and that's our biggest problem."
Of course not every hog is killed. Some escape and they often find each other.
"They have the greatest reproduction potential of any large mammal in the world," Doty said.
And they are resilient. As long as water is available, they can survive most environments because they aren't picky eaters.
"They'll eat anything!" Doty said. "They've been known to eat rabbit, fawns -- that's a baby deer! Whatever they come across, they inhale it!"
They also are highly mobile and carry diseases that Doty says can affect people, pets, wildlife and livestock.
Doty says the swine are mostly nocturnal to avoid human interaction. If they sense humans nearby, they will not only stay out of view, they will change their eating habits and social behaviors. If you don't see these secretive beasts, you may observe some signs of their activity:
- extensive rooting or digging
- muddy wallows, especially in moist areas during warmer months
- tree rubbing
- tunnels and trails through thick vegetation.
Doty says they are very destructive to farms and crops.
"If a planter goes through one day, they [the feral swine] will uproot it all that night," she said. "They'll literally just go trench right through the planting row and eat every piece of planted material."
And these animals are detrimental to the economy and environment.
"The biggest negativity is the billions of dollars lost in agriculture," Doty said, "And the biggest thing for me is they're destroying our environment -- they're destroying our biodiversity. If they got into a sensitive environmental area, they could wipe out an endangered species in a matter of a night."
Doty says if you see signs of swine activity on your property, call the USDA. Nationwide, the USDA estimates that their population is 6 million and rapidly growing. Doty's lecture will focus on current research on feral swine and successful methods of removing them from Illinois.
To register and receive the Zoom link, email the Byron Forest Preserve District or call 815-234-8535 extension 200 for more information. The lecture starts at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 14.