Alligators, snakes, rats, mosquitoes — varmints en masse — are scourging suburban neighborhoods in the flooded Lowcountry this summer. Well, look out. Here comes another one: wild hogs.
Feral hog facts
No firm estimate of population in state. In 2012, 26,674 feral pigs were reported killed by deer hunters alone; 3,115 in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties.
Have been reported mostly along river basins in all 46 counties in the state.
Populations have been estimated at more than 10 per square mile along the Santee River on the northern end of Charleston and Berkeley counties and the lower Edisto on the southern end of Charleston County.
Females begin to breed at 6 months old and can have as many as three litters per year with eight to 10 piglets per litter.
Travel in packs, called sounds or sounders. They are wary animals; the entire group must be trapped at the same time, or the remaining hogs will avoid the cage.
Are progeny of hogs that strayed from free roaming farmers’ herds, or were brought in by hunters as game.
Source: S.C. Department of Natural Resources
A “sounder” of feral pigs is rooting up lawns in Village Green off the Ashley River Road in West Ashley, snorting away in the dark, apparently feeding on insects and grubs.
The legendary mule-footed hog
Tales of hogs without cloven hoofs are some of those curiosities of Lowcountry lore.
But the mule-footed hog was real and it might still be around.
The hogs are an aberrant solid-hoofed variety of feral pigs, which normally are cloven-hoofed. For generations, they were said to roam the Francis Marion.
Savannah River Ecology Lab ecologist I. Lehr Brisbin said he thinks they’re now extinct. But hunters have reported seeing them.
The strange-hoofed hogs show up among almost all the feral herds. Sometimes, all four hooves are solid, sometimes the front, sometimes the back, but never just left or right. The tale is that these hogs were selectively bred after they appeared to be more resistant to hog cholera that decimated herds.
“We’ve got several ‘pet pigs’ out here,” said resident Janet Hardeman with a sighing laugh. “They have really torn it up at the edge of the woods. Last night they tore up around the pond right below our window.”
The subdivision sits up against an expanse of wetlands woods that makes up the plantation land along the river road, not far from creeks and the river itself. In other words, prime country for hogs. Wildlife biologists believe they are being pushed out of the flooded bottoms to look for food.
If you live in river country, “that habitat is right behind your house,” said Sam Chappellear, S.C. Department of Natural Resources regional wildlife coordinator.
Feral hogs are the tusked scavengers of the swamps, nosing up acre after acre, digging for roots, grubs and insects. They are 200 pounds plus, not scared of much, and they have the run of river basins up and down the Lowcountry.
The hogs aren’t really wild; they are the wallowing progeny of centuries of free-range farm pigs that didn’t return from the swamplands. They are a chronic problem in much of the rural Lowcountry, not only for the damage but also for driving out other game.
They are a recurring nuisance along the edges of the wide swath of wetland forest between the Ashley River and Rantowles Creek. Big hogs occasionally can be seen from the river road rooting along the drainage ditches near Drayton Hall plantation grounds.
Drayton Hall teams up with Middleton Plantation to get as many as possible trapped and disposed of. But trappers and hunters can’t keep up with a species whose females are capable of some two dozen offspring a year.
“There’s just a lot of woods out there, a lot of habitat for them,” said George McDaniel, Drayton Hall executive director.
The pigs also are tearing up lawns in Grand Oaks, about a mile away from Village Green through the woods. In January, they were plaguing neighborhoods down Bees Ferry Road between the two subdivisions.
The pigs used to haunt Village Green back when the first homes were built. Hardeman’s husband Keith totaled a car colliding with a darting pig as he left for work one morning. But the hogs hadn’t been noticed since the subdivision filled out, she said. Until now.
State law allows the pigs to be shot freely; a permit is required to shoot them at night. But Village Green residents don’t have that option. They are in the city of Charleston, and city law doesn’t allow residents to shoot in subdivisions. The hogs can be trapped, but must be disposed of afterward.
Charleston Police recommends residents work with their homeowners association to hire a professional trapper.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.