Monday, November 16, 2015

This little piggie (and all his friends) were busy digging up our yard

I was excited the first time I saw a wild hog, about 13 years ago. My son Toby and I were taking back roads home from Clermont. As we rounded a bend on Cherry Lake Road, a large, husky, dark-haired animal emerged from the woods and ran along the grassy strip next to the road. It all happened quickly. The pig darted back into the woods as my son and I drove on.

I was glad Toby was with me because without corroboration I doubt if the rest of the family would have believed me when I told them what I saw. At that point, our family was well settled into our little lakeside haven. Yet, in the 10 years we had lived there, no feral pigs had discovered our chunk of rural charm.

Since then, I’ve spotted wild hogs a few more times but never on our property. Most sightings took place along roads, especially along more isolated stretches of highway in the late afternoon.

However, in the past couple years, things have changed.

My neighbors mentioned seeing wild hogs, and I began to notice the distinctive footprints made by porcine creatures on trails around our property. Despite such evidence, I didn’t take it seriously. So there are wild pigs, I thought. What’s the big deal?

I soon found out.

“Ralph!” I bellowed, one morning as my husband entered the kitchen. “You’ve got to see what happened down by the lake!”

I was up early that morning, drawn outside to admire the dawn skyscape — beautiful colors reflected in the lake’s still water. All was lovely and serene until I looked at the ground along the shoreline.

Calling it “ground” might be inaccurate. It used to be ground — a green expanse of wildflowers, weeds and tall grasses that abutted the water. Now, “mudbath” would be a more accurate description. An approximately 75-foot by 8-foot stretch of once-green lawn was transformed into a lumpy length of black glop. The snouts and wallowing bodies of wildlife had found our property. They had dug into their discovery with abandon, leaving no sod unturned.

Was I excited by this sighting? Not exactly. I was more puzzled than anything. Considering what a mess they made, at least a dozen wild hogs must have been digging in the dirt just 30 feet or so away from our house. How could I possibly have missed seeing — or at least hearing — such a mammoth explosion of feral tomfoolery?

One evening at dusk, I saw several wild hogs on the other side of the lake and managed to capture this distant and blurred picture.  It was the only time I've actually seen them on our property even though the evidence of their presence proves they've been here quite a lot. 

Wild swine have been digging up dirt in the Sunshine State for more than four centuries. Estimated populations topping 500,000 of these large mammals — a mature feral hog can weigh up to 200 pounds and be 5 to 6 feet long — roam throughout all 67 Florida counties in groups of 2 to 30 animals.

With a diet consisting of both plant and animal material, these intelligent and fast-reproducing critters cause havoc in just about every possible habitat. Beginning when she is just six months old, a female can produce two to three litters a year, each with up to five piglets. That’s a lot of little piggies mucking up the ground in coastal, inland, wooded, wetland, agricultural and suburban habitats.

When I wonder why, after 23 years of living on our homestead, we’ve only now begun to see wild pigs, I needn’t look further than a publication posted on the University of Florida IFAS Extension website entitled “Wild Hogs in Florida: Ecology and Management.” Author William M. Giuliano stated, “…hogs prefer large forested areas with abundant food, particularly acorns, interspersed with marshes, hammocks, ponds and drainages. Good hog habitats have plenty of cover in the form of dense brush and limited human disturbance to woods, fields and wetland.”

Our property didn’t fit that description 23 or even 10 years ago, but it sure does now.

Now that the cloven-hoofed cotillion has snorted, rooted and wallowed its way onto our private domain, a perpetually disturbed landscape might be in our future. Once wild hogs find suitable habitat, they tend to stay. Why leave, after all, when you’ve found a place that has everything you need?

Thirteen years ago, I was thrilled when I spotted a wild pig running along the road. Fast forward a decade or so and, despite the destruction they’ve caused, I’d still be excited if I saw one or more feral hogs today. I may not be happy with what they do, but I can’t help but be awed by the very presence of so many wild animals managing not just to survive but thrive in this sadly wildlife-unfriendly human-centric world.

Maybe it’s pigheaded of me to say, but I don’t really mind if wild hogs are here to stay.

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