The invaders come at night. They are silent. They are ferocious. And after dawn breaks, giant patches of manicured lawns have been rooted-over and destroyed.
Fast, agile and tusk-faced, wild hogs are considered a nuisance statewide. Their numbers have run to more than 150,000 in all 46 counties.They are not a protected species.
In an attack on Charleston’s suburbs, a West Ashley neighborhood off Bees Ferry Road has found itself under siege from packs of wild hogs bold enough to leave the safety of what previously were thousands of acres of isolated forest and swamp.
Sightings have been rare, but anyone who’s seen the fur-covered super pigs say they appear fearless.
“I used to come out on the patio at night,” said resident Dewayne Johnson. “Now I’m afraid to.”
In one incident, a man who arrived home around 10 p.m. found one of the beasts tearing up his front yard. Too scared to exit his car, he stayed put for the long moments until the hog moved on.
The neighborhood being overrun is Autumn Chase/Magnolia Lakes, part of the sprawling Grand Oaks area. Residents report first seeing the hogs last fall but say the problem seems to have escalated in the past month as construction of a new cut-through road and an apartment complex behind their neighborhood has taken off.
The pattern so far is that the animals, which can weigh 200 pounds or more, start appearing after 10 p.m. They are surprisingly quiet in their rooting, residents say, as they begin turning over shallow plots of earth searching for grubs, worms, crickets and other meaty delicacies. Dozens of yards have been hit, some seeing damage right outside bedroom windows.
“It looks like a drunken farmer came through with a plow,” Jim Metzger, secretary of the local homeowners association, said in describing the aftermath.
Most of the hogs disappear around sunrise, with stragglers staying past 7 a.m., or about the time the community is beginning to wake, walk pets or send children off to school. So far no injuries have been reported but one of the larger groups spotted included what one witness assumed was an adult sow and boar surrounded by more than a dozen piglets.
Since hogs are not native to the state or even to North America, the populations running loose here are likely descendants of domesticated pigs brought over during early colonial days that escaped and became feral for centuries. They are not a protected species, which means anyone can hunt them and there is no closed season.
What’s most concerning to some now in the modern age is the boldness at which they have suddenly appeared in suburbia.
Jan Maguire spotted one of the pigs tearing up her neighbor’s yard early one morning and said it took some doing to “shoo” the animal away while banging from a safe distance inside her home.
“It came back the next day, too,” she said. Other residents report being oblivious to the animals gathering just outside their doorsteps but going to bed wondering why their dogs suddenly are barking more at night.
Metzger recently brought news of the pests to the attention of Charleston City Council, asking that something be done to remove them.
Councilman Marvin Wagner, who represents the area, said the city is in the early stages of crafting a response but admits local government has “limited ability to control wild animals, just like it has limited ability to control alligators.” A couple of the pigs have already been trapped by a private individual, he said.
Charles Ruth, wildlife biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources, said this was the first instance he knew of where hogs were attempting to run a neighborhood. Woods and agriculture settings normally are their prime feeding areas. “It was just a matter of time,” he said.
Trapping seems to be the most effective way of controlling a population, Ruth said, but he added that keeping construction active may be the simple solution, if residents can be patient.
“Some of this could be temporary,” he said. “It could stop as soon as it started. Oftentimes the ‘cure’ is more development. The more concrete, the hogs are going to go away.”
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.