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August 20, 2010 / V A Nichols

Contraceptives for Feral Pigs

Auburn works on novel idea to stop wild pig problem: Oral contraceptives

Published: Tuesday, August 10, 2010, 3:45 PM     Updated: Tuesday, August 10, 2010, 3:49 PM

Press-Register staff

It’s been called a problem of epidemic proportions in parts of the United States: the explosion in the population of wild pigs.

Consider this statistic: Wild hogs caused an estimated $44 million in damage to Alabama cropland in 2009.

With that in mind, it might not sound too surprising that Auburn University, backed by the Alabama Farmers Federation, is working on a perhaps novel way to cut down on the growth of these crop-eating, farmland-destroying feral nightmares: oral contraceptives.

No, they’re not trying to get the pigs on the pill. After all, they’d be all hoofs when it comes to popping them out of the little round packages.

What Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and College of Veterinary medicine are working on is a contraceptive that could be placed out in bait for the pigs to eat. There is precedent for such a thing, explained Steve Ditchkoff, an associate professor in the School of Forestry and Wildlife.

In 1971, oral contraceptives were used to control wild horses, he said.

The problem at hand is that the researchers need to make a contraceptive that is species-specific and won’t, for example, make deer sterile if they happened to eat it.

“No species-specific oral contraceptive has been developed,” Ditchkoff said. “But we’re working on it.”

What they are in the initial testing stages on is an oral contraceptive that would work only for pigs and would do its job by prompting them to have an immune reaction in the reproductive system. The pigs would, more or less, sort of become allergic to making babies.

How long it would last is still part of what the researchers are studying, Ditchkoff said, but “in theory, it could be permanent.”

Ditchkoff said that researchers have been conducting studies on some pigs in captivity. Once a species-specific so-called “immunocontraceptive” is developed and patented, he said, it would be distributed in bait placed in pig habitat or even dropped by airplane.

(emphasis added)

The Rest of the Story…

While this is good news for Alabama’s feral pigs, it is an amazing turn of events.

If you’ve ever wondered where the feral pigs in Alabama came from, you can thank hunters who released domestic pigs in an effort to increase target numbers many years ago.  Most feral pigs in the past were located in southern Alabama. In recent years, feral pigs have illegally been transported northward.  All because hunters want more targets.

So the hunters will not like the development of immunocontraceptives for feral pigs.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) is the state-level advocate for hunters, the seller of state hunting licenses, and the recipient of federal taxes on hunting equipment.  ADCNR provides annual funding, in the form of grants, etc,. to Auburn University.

With the number of hunters dwindling,  the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will not be happy that their remaining customers will have fewer hunting targets.

So why are immunocontraceptives for feral pigs being developed now?

Is it really that Alabama farmers have had enough of the alleged destruction of feral pigs? The powerful and well-heeled Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA) has a huge presence in our state.

Is this about money? Who can pay for what they want?

Perhaps there is a silent partner to the development of immunocontraceptives  for feral pigs at this time.  Alabama’s Agriculture Commissioner, Ron Sparks, is running for Governor.  How might the possible  effort by Ron Sparks to diminish crop damage help him during this year’s election cycle?

Time will tell.

Whatever the reason, I look forward to the time when Alabama’s wild / feral pigs are not maimed by broad-head arrows or rifle slugs.

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