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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Pigs Gone Wild; A Real Nuisance!!

By: Alwin Dornelly
Forestry Department

Feral or wild pigs (Sus scrofa) are described world-wide as one of the worst invasive species and are considered to be an enormous liability to natural ecosystems, biodiversity, agricultural production and human health. They compete directly with native fauna, and have even caused the extinction of some of those species.
Their omnivorous diet and their burrowing habits contributes to altering forest processes, reducing the growth of native plants, and consequently paving the way for the introduction of invasive plants. Feral pigs are especially attracted to waterlogged and riparian habitats, and so alter the structure and functioning of important water courses. Feral pigs also cause significant damage to agricultural crops and livestock, directly resulting in the loss of several million dollars in revenue to national economies.  Furthermore, they are known to act as vectors and reservoirs for a number of livestock and human diseases, both exotic and indigenous.

In Saint Lucia, the Forestry Department is growing increasingly concerned about the activities of feral pigs in the Government Forest Reserve and adjacent private lands. Several reports from the public and direct observations from department staff have shown that feral pig activities are increasing and causing damage to the natural vegetation and wildlife found within St. Lucia’s rainforest. Feral pig activity, seen near important water courses such as rivers and streams, may be contaminating our water sources.  The situation may be worsened by their reported presence on private lands and other areas adjacent to the Forest Reserve, significantly contributing to economic damage to private farms.
How did these pigs get into Saint Lucia’s forest in the first place?  Pigs are native to Europe and continental Asia, as far south and east as the Malaysian Peninsular, as well as to the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java. It is generally believed that domestic pigs were introduced to the West Indies during the voyages of Christopher Columbus in the 1400s, and that there was a subsequent spread to other islands, which he did not visit. Pigs have been farmed in Saint Lucia ever since colonial times, right up to the present, where they have proliferated, escaped through negligence or otherwise, and in some cases have become pests. Many farmers have perhaps allowed their pigs to forage freely in adjacent areas and were not successful in re-capturing them. Some of those pigs strayed into the forest areas and over several generations have survived there.

The effort required to eradicate (completely remove) feral pigs may be too expensive. What is needed is a sustainable management method, where population size is kept at a minimum threshold minimizing the damage caused by wild pigs. The Forestry Department has been challenged in organizing the known pig hunters on the island into organized community groups and training them in newer methods of entrapment than the traditional method of using dogs and guns. Most hunters do not own a licensed gun. They mostly form hunting expeditions with someone who owns a licensed gun.

Any response by the Forestry Department at solving the problem must take on a strategic and coordinated approach and must involve all stakeholders. Efforts must be sustained over time through adequate funding, adequate monitoring, and actions taken must be evaluated. This will ensure that desired results are achieved.

The task is great but we must continue to forge ahead in order to mitigate the damage caused to our forest ecosystem, waterways and farms by these feral pigs!