The New Mexico Livestock Board
Feral Swine – A Growing
Problem for New Mexico
There is no question that feral swine are a growing problem in New Mexico. In addition to spreading disease, the animals destroy pasture and fences, prey on livestock and wildlife and compete for forage and water and spread invasive weeds. Due to the potential risk feral swine pose to animal health, the New Mexico Livestock Board – charged with protecting the health of New Mexico’s livestock industry – recently passed a rule designating the species a pest and clarifying that feral swine are not considered livestock or protected as livestock in the state.
Feral swine can carry numerous diseases – including tuberculosis, brucellosis, and foot and mouth disease – which could have a huge impact on livestock in New Mexico. “It’s only a matter of time before we have a serious disease outbreak due to our growing population of feral swine,” said Dr. Dave Fly, New Mexico State Veterinarian. “They are scavengers, so they pick up everything that’s around. They have a high propensity to carry disease, and we know they are proliferating.”
Wildlife Services, an agency under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tests a portion of the feral swine killed in New Mexico for disease. Feral swine in some parts of the United States have been found to carry H3N2, the swine influenza virus, although it has not yet been found in New Mexico. However, Neospora caninum, a protozoan parasite which causes abortions in cattle and is believed to be the leading cause of abortions in dairy cattle has been found in New Mexico’s feral swine. “This parasite is something that producers should be aware of, and it certainly has the ability to impact New Mexico’s livestock industry,” said Alan May, State Director of Wildlife Services.
Each year, feral hogs cause over $1 billion in damages nationwide. Females can have up to two litters each year, and in New Mexico, their range has expanded from 2 to 17 counties in the past seven years. “There is absolutely nothing good about feral hogs,” May said. “They are a public health threat, as well as an environmental and economic disaster. In other areas of the country where they’ve had feral hogs for a while, hunters have begun to realize that these invasive, beasts are not an opportunity, they are a very serious problem.”
Feral swine have have gradually spread across the country, and are now found in almost every state. In New Mexico, the arid climate and lack of water has helped keep population densities down – an advantage when it comes to control and/or eradication. Currently, many populations in the state are found in river corridors, including the Pecos River, Canadian River, and in the Rio Grande valley, but they are quickly expanding their range.
Although there is no active eradication work going on in New Mexico at this time, Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte recently formed a task force to bring together state, federal and industry agencies and organizations on the issue. The group is currently working on a statewide eradication plan. “Everyone agrees that New Mexico has a problem but, as with most new initiatives, funding is the issue,” May noted.
The sooner action can be taken, the better results will be for the state. “This is a good opportunity to get a handle on the situation. If we took aggressive action now, we could push them back, or at least hold them to certain areas in the state,” Fly said. “However, if we don’t take action soon, the population will get to the point that we can’t get rid of them.”
“Right now, eradication is doable, but the longer we wait, the more problems we are going to have and the more difficult eradication will be,” May agreed.
Even with limited funding, state and federal agencies, tribes, and sportsmen’s organizations are pooling their resources and cooperating to address localized damage caused by feral swine, and to try and prevent this destructive species from spreading to new areas.
Helping people deal with problem wildlife is part of the job for Wildlife Services, and the agency will help people with feral swine problems on a case-by-case basis. They are especially interested in hearing about new, or unmapped, populations. To request Wildlife Services’ assistance with feral swine damage, or to report feral swine in new areas, people may call the Wildlife Services state office at 505/346-2640.