Feral pigs going hog wild in Kentucky

Randy Kelley has engaged in a frustrating and discouraging battle the past four or five years on his Henry County farm.

His 200-pound foe: a wild pig. Actually, that should be plural because these pigs tend to run in herds.

"They're just rooting my farm up," Kelley said. "They just go through your fields and tear it all to pieces. ... You never get it back like it was."

Kelley's 155-acre property in the Bethlehem community is just one example of what the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources calls a disturbing trend. An invasion of wild hogs in counties throughout the state is leaving muddy bogs of overturned ground and ruined crops in its wake. Feral swine have been in isolated areas of the state for decades, but in 2008, officials started an increase in reports of wild hogs in areas where they had not been seen before, said Steven Dobey, wildlife program coordinator for the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

The pigs have a documented presence in 37 counties, he said. That's up from 23 counties in 2009. While they are most concentrated in parts of Western Kentucky, the hogs have been found in other parts of the state, including Scott County, although Dobey said the population seemed to be declining there.

While the wild pigs are the same species as domesticated hogs, there are plenty of differences, Dobey said.

"These are not the big fat pink things where bacon comes from," he said. "They're like a plague in every state they occur."

He said feral pigs are hardy — they can survive in almost any environment and they'll eat almost anything.

"They're just like vacuum cleaners in the forest," Dobey said of the ecological damage the hogs inflict. "It looks like someone has gone through the forest with a tractor."

In addition to tearing up crops and natural terrain, the pigs carry a number of diseases, some of which are transferable to humans.

Dobey said swine brucellosis, which has been documented in wild pigs in Kentucky, can cause flulike symptoms in humans. While there haven't been any documented cases in people here, he said, hunters butchering wild swine should be very careful in doing so.

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