Wild Boar European Hog information for Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Road Closures: Parson Branch
The most destructive force after man in the Great Smoky Mountains national park to both the natural environment as well as the cultural resources in the park is the European hog (Sus scrofa) also called wild boar or swine. Since the 1940’s more than 13,200 have been killed or removed from the Great Smoky Mountains national park and despite this many have survived.
Wild boar are not native to the Americas, but are native to Europe, Asia, Japan, Malayan Islands and parts of Africa.
While some wild boar in the US were originally brought over by the Spaniards and got loose, the wild bear in the Smokies trace their roots back to escaping a game preserve on Hooper Bald in the 1920’s in what is now the Nantahala National Forest in Graham County, North Carolina.
These escaped european wild boar in the Smokies have breed with domestic pigs as they migrated to what is now the Great Smoky Mountains national park. The white blaze seen on some hogs are evidence of this hybridization.
Wild Boar in the Great Smoky Mountains Park
Characteristics of the Wild Boar in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Domestic pigs or swine are so intelligent that they rank with apes, dolphins and other species as they passed the famed "mirror self-recognition test" in some tests, which scientists believe to me a marker of self-awareness and advanced intelligence. Tests have shown that wild bear have even more intelectual capacity then domestic pigs.
Beside being exceptionally smart, wild boar also have the capacity to breed incredibly young, twice a year and potentially with huge litters making them a management nightmare in places that these invasive pest invade.
A pregnant sow (female wild boar) can have from between 4 to 12 piglets that are 2 pounds a piece after a gestation period of between 100 - 125 days. These piglets are completely weaned by 4 months and by 6 months of age can start having 2 litter a year of their own. With an average lifespan of 8 years, you can see how many offspring they can produce.
Adult wild boar in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are smaller than those found elsewhere in the Southeast which can weigh more than 300 pounds. Wild male boar here are around 125 pounds and stand about 2-3 feet tall at the shoulder and about 4-5 feet long. Female wild boar are slightly smaller.
Adult male and female wild boar have coats of long hair ranging black to grey, some with brown highlights and or white blazes. Young piglets under 4 months of age have brown stipes. Wild boar have 44 teeth including prominent canines. Sharp protruding tusk from the bottom are sharpened by the upper tusks which act like a whetstone sharpening a knife.
Hogs are most active at night and will commonly travel in family groups until the offspring reach sexual maturity from 6 - 12 months old. Adult male hogs are generally solitary animals except during breeding season.
Though mostly nocturnal wild boar are still active during the day time and very skittish. They migrate all throughout the park in search of food and can be found at all elevations. Seasonally they can be found in high elevations during the summer where it is cooler and in the fall the move into the lower elevations to take advantage of the mast crop of acorns.
During their voracious migration, they plow up areas in such of bulbs, tubers and wildflowers and will consume small mammals, snakes, mushrooms, bird eggs, and salamanders such as our rare Jordan Red Cheeked Salamander.
Wild boar litter size and life expectancy is significantly impacted by the available food supply which can be affected by weather conditions and competition by other inhabitants of the park. Most crucial is the fall mast crop, for example acorns and beechnuts, which many other animals are dependant on.
Though never witnessed in person yet, it is believed that coyote will occasionally take down a wild boar based upon how many times boar hair has been found in coyote scat. If true, it's one of the few upsides of coyote in the Smokies.
The Threat of Wild Boar to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
The wild european boar is a non-native species which causes widespread damage to the park's ecosystem by wallowing and rooting destroying vegetation some of which is endangered. The European hogs voracious appetite reduces natural food stocks such as acorns which directly effects the black bear and other native species that inhabit the park.
The rooting activity not only destroys delicate environments and kills plants and animals important to maintain in the biodiversity of the park, since wild boar have no sweat glands, one of the ways they keep cool and rid themselves of parasites is by wallowing in muddy and wet areas.
Besides the additional damage that wallowing does to our fragile ecosystem which has not evolved with native animals that wallow, this is a significant source of silting and contamination of our streams which affect our native brook trout which have a very low tolerance for contaminated or silted waters.
Another detrimental effect that wild boar has on our watersheds and drainages is that the hogs contaminate water and soil with coliform bacteria and Giardia which are both a threat to human health. Any water from streams, springs and rivers in the Great Smoky Mountains National park must be treated before consumed.
Wild boar are also a significant threat to other mammals in the park as well as livestock and domestic pets outside of the GSM national park as around 5% of the resident wild boar killed since 2005 have tested positive for Aujeszky's disease.
Aujeszky's disease is caused by Suid herpesvirus 1 and is also known as Pseudorabies or "mad itch" and is most often fatal in mammals that become infected. Pseudorabies poses a major threat to the commercial farming industry. Fortunately, humans are not effected by Pseudorabies.
Pseudorabies is deadly to Great Smoky Mountains National Park resident species such as Black Bear, Bobcat, Elk, White Tailed Deer, Red Fox, Grey Fox, Coyote, Mink and Raccoon and domestic dogs, cats, cattle, pigs and sheep.
Pseudorabies from wild boar can survive in humid air or water for up to 7 hours and in plants, soil, and feces for up to 2 days making the possibility of widespread infection quite easy. This is yet another great reason to not bring a dog into the national park where for the most part they are not even allowed.
So far Brucellosis, another deadly disease that is often spread by wild boar has not been found in the wild swine population found in the Great Smoky Mountains national park although all feral pigs destroyed are tested.
Wild hogs are not just a threat to the park natural resources through the competitive over consumption of food sources, destruction of natural habitat and the spreading of disease, they also root around and destroy historic areas including cemeteries where their rooting can knock over and break tombstones dating back to the 1800's.
A new tool in the national parks arsenal in the fight against wild hogs are GPS tracking collars. Thanks initially to donations from the Eastern Band of Cherokees these GPS collars will allow wildlife Biologists to track "Judas" hogs that join other wild hogs around the park.
By allowing some wild hogs to be monitored, the park service and those who they share information with will better be able to understand wild hog’s movements and how they react to humans chasing them as well as being able to model how pseudorabies is moving in the park.
Helping crunch the data will be the University of Tennessee’s National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis, or NIMBioS, a research institute that focuses on the science of mathematics and biology.
Wild Boar Management in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Wildlife biologists trap and shoot non-native hogs in order to keep their population in check thus reducing some of the damage caused by these unwelcome visitors to the park. The park dopes not expect to be able to completely eradicate the European wild hog in the Smokies which can even attack humans if startled or provoked.
Wild hog management has been ongoing in the Smokies for more than half a century and a lot has been learned. At one point the park allowed hunters in the park, it was not effective at all.
Early night hog hunting setups included car batteries powering car style headlamp's on the bottoms of shot guns. Can you imagine lugging that through the woods?
Great Smoky Mountains National Park personnel devoted to hunting the wild hogs started in 1977 when the hog population was estimated at around 2,000 head. Since 1986 more than 7,900 wild hog have been killed in the GSMNP and the present population estimates range within the hundreds.
Trapping has been done for so long, that swine evolution has kicked in. Since trapping has been done for more than 6 decades removing the less intelligent wild boar which would fall for a trap, the smarter boar survive and have offspring and thus we jokingly call these products of unnatural selection super boar as they are much harder to trap.
The most effective wild hog population control method used in the park right now is using wildlife mangers whom hunt for wild boar with shotguns and AR15 style rifles equipped with flash suppression and night vision so that the hogs can be hunted at night when they are active and park visitors are not.
Commonly when an area of the park shows hog activity, wildlife technicians will install game cameras and bait the area to lure the hog to an effective and safe kill zone. Reviewing trail camera information they are able to determine the best time to kill as many and as humanly and quickly as possible.
Wild boar that have been killed in the park stay in the park. After collecting blood, tissue and hair samples, the boar are buried or placed in a location where scavengers such as coyote, black bear and other carnivores in the are able take advantage of a free feast of an animal feed by our parks natural resources.
Where to See Wild Boar/What to Do in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Wild boar in the park are very skittish and avoid humans whenever possible but sometimes that can be spotted along Newfound Gap Road, Clingmans Dome Road, Balsam Mountain Road, the fields in Cades Cove especially of Hyatt Lane, all of the fields in Cataloochee and along all of the hiking trails in the GSMNP.
If you see wild hogs, generally just making noise is enough to scare them away. You do not want to approach them too closely as though we have not had any wild boar attacks here in the GSMNP, it is possible.
If you see fresh hog activity on a trail or see hog anywhere in the park, please report the location as accurately as possible to a ranger or visitor center. The park works hard to protect every species in the park as well as our historic cultural resources and removing wild hog from The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is necessary to do this.