Michael's Rediscovery of Nature

Ramblings and observations of a former biologist and a lifelong naturalist, who has recently returned to his roots in east Texas. After a many years of working from coast to coast in an industry far removed from biology, it has been a pleasant change of geography, activity, and attitude. No stressful job decked out in a three piece suit. No city living. Instead there is a rediscovery of the woods, of something scurrying through the leaves, of the clear notes of a bird call, and of reliving the joy that I had when nature was a playground and a classroom.

Warthogs invade South Texas


No, this is not a joke.  

It does show once again the dangers that arise with the importation of non-native species. Far too often, with no natural predators, their populations get out of control and the damage they do to the local ecosystems can be devastating. 

 The article below is from the Houston Chronicle.  http://www.chron.com/sports/outdoors/article/Warthogs-invade-South-Texas-6671689.php 

By Shannon Tompkins

December 2, 2015 Updated: December 2, 2015 9:19pm

Over its 46-year history, the Chaparral Wildlife Management Area has been the site of a long list of achievements that cemented its reputation as the premier state-owned wildlife and wildlife habitat research, education and public hunting complex in South Texas.

This year, the "Chap" added a new feat to that list. But it's not one the staff of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's 15,200-acre tract in Dimmit and LaSalle counties wanted or covets.

"I'm guess now we'll be known as the first public hunting area in North America where a hunter harvested a warthog," said Stephen Lange, Chaparral WMA manager.

And not just one warthog. During public deer hunts on the Chaparral WMA this autumn, hunters have taken four warthogs, wild swine native to Africa and cousins of the feral hogs whose booming population swarms like locusts over Texas' landscape causing millions of dollars of property damage and untold harm to native wildlife, habitat and other natural resources.

The Chaparral WMA is in the center of what evidence indicates is a growing, range-expanding, self-sustaining feral population of African warthogs, the first such population on this continent. And that worries state wildlife managers such as Lange, who see the non-native warthogs, which can weigh more than 200 pounds, as having the potential to negatively affect native wildlife and habitat.

"There certainly are some concerns," he said of evidence warthogs are gaining a cloven-hoofed hold in South Texas. "Any non-indigenous animal competes with native wildlife for resources."

While feral hogs have been in Texas for hundreds of years, exploding in population, range and damage only over the past 30 or so years, African warthogs are new players on the landscape.

Not unexpected

The first sighting of a warthog on the Chaparral WMA came in September 2014 when TPWD staff conducting aerial surveys of the area's deer population spotted a large boar, Lange said.

The sighting, while disconcerting, wasn't exactly unexpected. Private ranches in the region were, over the past few years, known to have imported or purchased African warthogs and released them on their properties. (A quick check online turns up multiple offers of live warthogs available for purchase, with some of them in Texas.)

Such actions are legal in Texas, where many species of exotic, non-native wildlife can be legally purchased or imported and considered private property, the same as domestic livestock.

While TPWD has regulatory authority over native wildlife and can set rules governing their possession and movement of those species, the agency has no authority over such exotic livestock, and can't prevent landowners from releasing the animals on their land. This has lead to Texas becoming home to self-sustaining populations of nilgai, oryx, blackbuck antelope, axis deer, sambar and other hoofed animals.

And, just as occurred with some of those non-native animals, some of the African warthogs escaped their release sites. Turns out, African warthogs are good at breaching fences and other enclosures designed to contain wildlife and livestock.

"They are very good at burrowing," Lange said.

That's how they found their way onto the Chaparral WMA which is enclosed by a high fence. And they liked what they found. South Texas, with its mild climate, sandy soil and diverse vegetation, is similar to warthog's native habitat in sub-Saharan Africa.

The African warthogs generally resemble feral hogs but are almost wholly hairless and have elongated, flattened snouts from which protrude four large, long, sharp tusks that are much longer than those on feral hogs. They have other differences with their feral hog cousins, including their habit of using burrows as homes and being most active during daylight hours.

But they share some behaviors with feral hogs, including, Lange said, a high reproductive potential, with sows able to reproduce before they are a year old and produce litters of two to eight piglets.

And they are reproducing. This summer, remote-sensing game cameras set on the Chaparral WMA captured images of a warthog sow with four piglets. And WMA staff captured a nursing sow in one of the hog traps set on the area.

"If they are reproducing here, they're reproducing in other areas, too," Lange said.

Good eating at least

There is no evidence the African warthogs are interbreeding with feral hogs, and that doesn't seem likely to occur, Lange said. The genetic differences between warthogs and feral hogs is significant enough that interbreeding is not likely to produce young, and, if hybrids are produced they are almost certain to be infertile, he said.

But a growing, reproducing, expanding warthog population is not something that would benefit Texas' native wildlife.

"I don't see any way it could be a good thing," Lange said.

Over the summer, TPWD staff captured and euthanized six warthogs on the Chaparral WMA as part of the agency's policy of eliminating non-native invasive species on its wildlife management areas. Staff also encouraged hunters who drew the coveted permits for public hunts on the Chaparral WMA to take any warthogs (or feral hogs) they saw while afield.

Several other warthogs have been reported taken this autumn by hunters in South Texas, with most coming from LaSalle, Dimmit and McMullen counties, but at least one coming from Duval County.

Experts, Lange said, suggest warthogs' range might be limited to South Texas, where climate and habitat conditions suit them. Warthogs, unlike feral hogs, don't appear to survive well in cold weather.

Feral, free-ranging African warthogs, like other non-native feral pigs, are not protected by Texas game laws and can be killed at any time in any number. And that's what Texas hunters are encouraged to do if they encounter one.

"I've been told they are very good to eat - just as good or better than feral hogs," Lange said.

And, just as with feral hogs, that's about the only positive thing to be said about African warthogs in Texas.

 Reprinted under the "Fair Use" educational copyright policy.

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