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Poison could help control feral hogs in Texas

A trail cam captures an image of wild hogs passing through Medina River Natural Area in far South San Antonio.
Gilbert Martinez
Parks and recreation department
A trail cam captures an image of wild hogs passing through Medina River Natural Area in far South San Antonio.

There are more than 3 million feral hogs in Texas. These animals have no natural predators, reproduce exponentially, and have caused more than $500 million a year in damage to property and other wildlife.

Now, there may be a new tool in the effort to control their population. It's a poison that contains warfarin, and a recent study has shown much promise.

On this week's edition of "Weekend Insight," TPR's Jerry Clayton spoke with Mike Bodenchuk, state director for the Cooperative Texas Wildlife Services Program, about the poison.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Clayton: Can you give me a brief overview of your study?

Bodenchuk: We developed a toxicant study to evaluate, produced to reduce landowner use of a warfarin based toxin for feral pigs. The legislature directed this in the last session in 2021, and we took two years to test this toxicant in multiple eco-regions, multiple seasons across Texas.

Clayton: How safe is this method for other wildlife?

Bodenchuk: That's the most important part, right? We wanted to assess whether non-targets would be at risk. Warfarin has a short half-life, and feral swine have to eat enough of it over multiple days to get a lethal dose. So, the toxicant itself is very safe. But more importantly, we also deliver it in a hog specific feeder that allows hogs to get access, but other wildlife doesn't get access to it. So, in our study, we had no non-target issues whatsoever.

Clayton: You've said before that this is not exactly a silver bullet, but in what circumstance is it the most effective?

Bodenchuk: From my perspective, as a manager of feral hog damage, the fragmented landscape that we see a lot in East Texas — smaller tracts of land, 100-acre properties, those kinds of things — are not conducive to traditional feral hog management tools. A toxicant may be an advantage in those circumstances where a landowner can chum the pigs in there and then treat them in a short window of time and be able to be effective where other tools don't work. So ... it's not going to be a silver bullet, but in some circumstances, it may be the tool of choice.

Clayton: What are the downsides to using this poison?

Bodenchuk: This particular toxicant requires a very specific protocol. You have to teach the pigs how to use the feeder before you introduce the toxicant. You have to teach them to get accustomed to the toxicant. It's an extruded product with multiple matrixes in there. Different kinds of food mixed in. So, you have to teach them to do that. In essence, it takes at least three weeks — and in some cases five weeks — before you introduce the toxicant, and then two more weeks of toxicant feeding. So, it does require a landowner to be on the property all the time and to follow a very specific protocol. If you're trying to cut the corners, it's just not going to work well.

Clayton: I understand that in your study it didn't happen, but you have said that it's possible that bears could be affected by this. Is that correct?

Bodenchuk: Right. We're concerned any feeder that's specific to pigs would also allow bears to have access. We don't have ... artificial intelligence to determine which is a bear [or] which is a pig at any kind of affordable scale. So, we are concerned about that. We've got a monitoring program. Again, you're going through this long pre-baiting conditioning phase. And so, we have landowners that are managing that and watching it with cameras.

If a bear ever shows up, if you've got a bear track on the property, you just don't introduce the toxic bait. It's unlikely the bear could ever eat a lethal dose in a single feeding. So even if you slipped up and a bear got access once, it shouldn't be a problem for a bear. But it's something we want to avoid.

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Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.