The man who gained fame for successfully allowing hunters to shoot hogs from helicopters is now championing another strategy to hasten what he calls “the feral hog apocalypse”: poison.
Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller will announce Tuesday that he is approving a pesticide, “Kaput Feral Hog Lure,” for statewide use. He says the product, poisoned bait food, is the first specifically designed to control the feral hog population, now estimated at more than 2.5 million in Texas.
Feral hogs cause at least $50 million in damage annually to Texas agriculture, destroying crops and livestock tanks, as well as causing untold damage in suburban areas, where they dig up homeowners’ yards and dine on cable and internet lines.
“They’re so prolific, you can’t hardly keep them in check,” Miller told the American-Statesman. Sows have been known to produce two litters a year, typically with four to six offspring in each litter. “This is going to be the hog apocalypse, if you like: If you want them gone, this will get them gone.”
As a state senator, Miller authored legislation that allowed for the aerial killing of hogs. Now, on average, 27,500 hogs are killed that way annually.
Feral hogs were introduced to North America by Spanish settlers who set domestic pigs free into the woods so that they could breed freely. Overall, as many as 750,000 are harvested annually, but the problem is a growing one.
The product is basically bait food laced with warfarin, used as a blood thinner for humans but apparently lethal in hogs.
Miller said licensees will be able to set out nontoxic bait food for the hogs in feeders that require the strength of an adult hog to access. Once the hogs grow accustomed to the food, licensees can replace the nontoxic bait with the toxic variety.
Miller, who said he is changing state agricultural rules to allow the product’s use, said Kaput presents a “minimal risk to other animals” because it requires much higher dosages to affect other wildlife populations or livestock.
He said officials at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service support the rule change and the use of warfarin for feral hog population control, but an official at Texas A&M who oversees feral hog operations declined to comment Monday.
The product was developed by Colorado-based Genesis Laboratories and will be sold by its sister company, Scimetrics.
“Hogs are particularly sensitive to warfarin,” Genesis President Richard Poché said.
Poché said the hog bait contains only one-fifth of the concentration found in conventional rat and mouse baits. He said that after 25 years of working with warfarin, numerous studies have found only minimal effects on wildlife, such as ferrets, magpies, alligators and birds of various species, when used at the low concentration in the bait.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department spokesman Steve Lightfoot said the agency had been consulted.
“These invasive animals destroy native habitats, indirectly impacting our state’s wildlife resources that rely on these habitats, and the department strongly supports and encourages feral hog control management practices,” he said.
“As for nontarget species, we can’t speculate on the impacts to wildlife species should exposure or consumption take place because dose, dose frequency, body mass and species sensitivity will likely be highly variable. Studies have shown that individual animals, such as rodents and raptors, can be affected through primary and secondary consumption of warfarin.”
Miller said hunters will be able to tell if the feral hog has consumed Kaput because the fat will be a bright blue.
“It’s a dead giveaway,” said Miller, who said the product has won federal approval.
The Texas Department of Agriculture got $900,000 from the Legislature in the last biennium to research feral hog control. So confident is he in Kaput, he said, that he will tell appropriators not to give his agency that money again.
“I am excited to see a new tool to address the feral hog populations,” said Nick Dornak, who oversees the Caldwell County Feral Hog Task Force, which has received $80,000 in state funding over the past four years and has removed more than 10,000 hogs during that period. “My concern would be that there’s any thought of this being a magic bullet for feral hog control in the state. We need trapping, we need aerial control, and not all landowners are willing to put poison on their property.”
Officials in Louisiana, where the product is also under consideration, have sounded less bullish than Miller.
A Louisiana state wildlife veterinarian told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that the hogs might drop crumbs of the bait food on the ground, where other wildlife can get to it. He also raised concerned that black bears — which also live in Texas — could get to the food.