AUSTIN (KXAN) — While feral hogs are a prolific, invasive species across the state of Texas, it’s not common for City of Austin employees to encounter these hogs in the course of their daily work. But after a feral hog gored an Austin Animal Protection officer with its tusks on Friday, Austin neighbors raised the question: what can be done in the future to avoid dangerous encounters and damage from hogs?
Kevin McConnell, who lives in Austin’s Lakewood neighborhood near Bull Creek, watched as the feral hog ran across his yard to a neighbor’s yard Friday. He watched as the hog rammed into his neighbor’s gate, ultimately pushing through the gate to attack the Animal Protection officer.
“Something’s got to change with the way we deal with this issue in Austin, now that someone has been hurt severely with this,” McConnell said.
He has lived in the same neighborhood next to Balcones Canyonland Preserve since 1990 and says only in the past year has he started to see feral hogs running around and tearing up neighbors’ gardens.
McConnell was one of several residents in the area KXAN heard from who had concerns about how future hog encounters should be handled.
Feral hogs in Texas
Feral hogs are not native to Texas but have reproduced rapidly across the state to the point where they can be found in nearly all Texas counties. According to Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, of the 4 to 5 million feral hogs in the United States, an estimated 2.6 million live in Texas. These animals, which can also be called wild boars or wild pigs, not only cause damage to landscapes and agriculture, they can also cause serious injuries to humans.
“These animals aren’t always going to be hostile towards people, but it’s not predictable,” explained Dr. John Tomeček, an Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University and a Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Wildlife Specialist.
He noted these hogs can also transmit more than a dozen diseases humans can catch. Additionally, these animals have a desire to forage, which can wreak havoc on golf courses and irrigated lawns.
It’s even possible for feral hogs to generate enough pollution to damage local water supply, Tomeček added.
“No matter who you are in this state, I can find some way that pigs impact you, and why you should care about them,” Tomeček emphasized.
He said over the last few years, he has been getting an increasing number of calls about feral hogs from Texas’ urban areas, including Austin.
“And it gets to be more and more of a problem as pigs get to become comfortable with people,” Tomeček elaborated. “In urban areas, they don’t perceive people as a problem, because we don’t do anything to them in those urban spaces. ”
The major methods of managing hog populations Tomeček described included targeting large groups of hogs with firearms and trapping hogs. He noted in Texas, it is possible to trap large groups of hogs, load the hogs alive onto a trailer and transport them to a Texas Animal Health Commission-approved buying station, where the hogs can be sent for meat processing.
Feral hog mitigation in Austin
Though feral hogs are being noticed more frequently in Austin, they are not brand new to the area.
Austin Water told KXAN that for more than 10 years, its Wildland Conservation Division has been trying to cut down on feral hog numbers in the land it manages, including Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, which is adjacent to this week’s feral hog incident in Austin.
This area also happens to be “some of the very last breeding groups for the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler,” which Austin Water said is directly undermined by damage from the hogs.
The department says it manages hog numbers through a program of “trapping and safely dispatching hogs.” Currently, the department has six active traps at the preserve, and it removes around 75 feral hogs from the land each year.
However, Austin Water said it can’t operate traps near the Lakewood neighborhood, because it is close to Forest Ridge Trail. The department says its protocol requires land used for hog management be locked and people who might access that area be notified. Austin Water said in the past when it closed Forest Ridge Trail, people still trespassed into the area.
The department also said it installs high fences around the Balcones Canyonland Preserve to keep wildlife inside. Austin Water moves feral hog traps around, because hogs can become aware of traps and try to avoid them.
The department said it does not support poisoning or snaring feral hogs because of possible impacts for other animals, including nearby domestic dogs.
The people outside of these areas have an impact on feral hog numbers too, Austin Water noted “as open space is developed, the hog population is pushed into a smaller area.”
In the city limits
Besides Austin Water, City of Austin Departments seem to encounter feral hogs far less frequently.
Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department said it does not deal with feral hogs in city parks, Austin Travis County EMS said it is rare for them to respond to feral hog injuries and Austin Animal Services says it is rare for Animal Protection officers to respond to feral hogs in the city.
Austin Animal Protection officers also don’t have any lethal capabilities; they are only armed with catch poles and nets.
The City of Austin is known for being a no-kill city, meaning in most circumstances the city will not kill animals. A spokesperson for Austin Animal Services explained the city’s no-kill status extends to wildlife, so the department doesn’t have a plan to manage or kill feral hogs.
City code and Austin Police General Orders, however, do allow officers to discharge firearms to stop a dangerous or aggressive animal that poses an imminent threat.
Neighbors who watched the Animal Protection officer get hurt in the Lakewood neighborhood this week said they called 911 but were transferred to the city’s non-emergency line, and eventually the Animal Protection officer was sent their way. Only after the officer was injured, did police officers arrive to the scene, neighbors said.
What can residents do?
Under state law, feral hogs can be hunted on private property if the landowner has granted permission. However, there are firearm discharge restrictions in the City of Austin, which restrict residents’ ability to do so.
A spokesperson for Austin Animal Services said residents can take preventive measures on their own to reduce the risk feral hogs will be hanging out nearby:
- Don’t feed feral hogs
- Don’t feed pets outside or leave pet food outside
- Eliminate potential sources of water on your property
- Clean up bird seed on the ground
- Keep barbecue grills clean
- Tightly cover and secure garbage cans and compost bins
- Clean up under fruit and nut trees
- Trim and brush shrubbery near the ground
- Make sure fences are secure
KXAN asked Tomeček for his advice to Austin residents to keep hogs away. He also believes it’s a good idea to eliminate sources of water on your property as feral hogs tend to be found near creeks and other water sources.
Additionally, he said residents near greenbelts may want to consider sturdy fencing to separate their property from wooded areas.
For those who have children playing outside, he suggested parents keep an eye out for any feral hog defecation which could transmit harmful bacteria or illnesses. If you encounter a feral hog in your area, Tomeček advises you keep a safe distance.
“Urban pig management situations are really complicated, and they do require people who know what they are doing,” he summarized, acknowledging there are no easy answers for how cities like Austin curb feral hog populations.
“I encourage municipalities to think proactively before pigs become a real problem and start thinking about, in our environment, with our city regulations and everything else, we have to look at, what else can we do?” Tomeček continued.