Park officials say feral swine have become a big issue at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area over the past few years, and efforts have begun to eliminate further spread of the species.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, the USDA Wildlife Agency and park officials have come up with a plan to catch and euthanize the swine in order to eradicate them from the park and surrounding areas. A USDA helicopter flew over an area of LBL Wednesday afternoon searching for signs of the animal.
Feral swine are considered an invasive species, much like Asian carp, because of their lack of predators, high reproduction rate and the amount of destruction caused when feeding and nesting. The animals have also been known to carry a number of diseases, including Swine Brucellosis and Pseudorabies, along with many types of parasites that pose threats to humans, pets, livestock and other wildlife in the area.
Brad Robins, with the USDA Wildlife Service for western Tennessee and Kentucky, said, “Over the past several years, we have noticed an incline in the number of swine in the area. These animals cause a lot of damage to crops and cultural sites in the area, and we want to eradicate them before it gets out of hand.”
Robins said the swine are not native to the area, but whether they were illegally released here or migrated from other areas, the problem needs attention now.
“In many cases that I have seen, the animals are released by hunters who want to create a new hunting opportunity in the area,” said Terri Brunjes, wild pig biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Many hunters enjoy pig hunting, but hunting pigs is illegal in Kentucky and the release of these animals is illegal too.”
The agencies have been using traps to catch and euthanize the animals in the past but, because of the rapid reproduction rate, are falling behind in their efforts.
“In 2018, 70 pigs were euthanized by APHIS,” said Land Between the Lakes Public Relations Officer Chris Joyner. “In 2019, that number grew to 124. Feral hogs can have two litters each year, averaging 5 to 10 piglets. Those offspring can give birth to a new generation in less than a year.”
The agencies will begin using helicopters to search and direct the hogs for wildlife specialists to shoot. This will only happen during the winter months when visitation to the park is low and trees are clear of leaves.
The rangers and wildlife experts will be on the ground to make sure that no visitors are in the areas that are targeted for eradication each day.
“If we see a person; hunter, camper or whoever on the ground, we will move on to another area,” Buster Keaton, USDA Pilot said. “We have several (eradication missions) planned for the area and can make adjustments as needed.”
Robins reminds visitors to stay out of areas marked by park rangers as “Do Not Enter” sites for their own safety.
The animals shot by wildlife experts will only be picked up and disposed of if they can be safely reached by rangers and agency operatives.
“We will let nature take its course with the carcasses,” Robins said. “Many times, the animals are killed in areas that make it almost impossible to find them once on the ground.”
Park visitors are warned to be cautious when encountering a feral pig, whether in the park or other areas.
“Like any other wild animal, they will most likely run from a human,” Keaton said. “They will have smelled or heard you coming and gone to hide before you can see them. If you come across a mother with piglets, she can become defensive, so it is best to keep your distance.”
Hunters are asked to not shoot the animals if they see them because it can hinder eradication efforts.
“Hunting wild hogs is counterproductive to agency eradication efforts,” Brunjes said. “Hogs that are hunted disperse into new areas and become very difficult to find and euthanize.”
If you see a feral hog in Land Between the Lakes or other areas, you are encouraged to report it to Brunjes at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. The USDA and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife will extend eradication efforts to private property free of charge to help euthanize all of the animals in the area. The office can be reached at 502-892-4548.
Sarah Elliott is a reporter for The Cadiz Record. Reach her at email@example.com.