Friday, February 1, 2013

Nature Notes: Wild Boar

I had just been cursing at the jumbled mess that had been made of the remote stretch of the Bartram Trail when I heard the loud snort.   Three wild boar (also called feral hogs) and a swarm of their babies were directly in front of me-- they were the ones responsible for all that rooting and upheaval of the trail.  There was brief moment when we locked eyes and sized one another up-- I was alone and weaponless, while the they seemed enormous and I imagined that their sharp tusks could slice right through me.  Much to my relief, they bolted off in the opposite direction, while I yelled at them in hopes they would keep running far away. 
When I first saw them, this is exactly what the wild boar looked like.
Numerous people have told me that wild boar are very dangerous-- and these were people unafraid of bears.  I've only seen them twice before, and didn't know much about their behavior.  Even though my plan had been to camp another mile up the trail,  I couldn't tell how far they had gone, so I turned around and headed back in the direction I'd come.   I hiked until dark and then set up camp.  I figured five miles seemed a very safe distance away.  In fact, I felt so safe that evening that I went on a night hike for an hour-- the longest night hike I've ever done solo-- and was rewarded by getting to see an owl up close!

On the way home, I felt disappointed with myself for turning around when I saw the wild hogs.  I've been working on being more fearless, and didn't know if I was being a scaredy cat or being sensible.  How dangerous are wild boars?   So when I got home, I started researching.  The facts are shocking, but not for reasons you'd expect. 

Attacks of hikers or campers are exceedingly rare.  Wild boar are highly wary of people, mostly run away, and probably the only reason I saw them was I was being quiet and it was late afternoon.   If you corner them, they will defend themselves though, which is why hunters and their dogs may get injured on occasion-- though there have only been four deaths since the 1800's.  After learning this, wild boar definitely go on my list of things not to be afraid of! 

What I was shocked to learn about is all the horrible environmental destruction caused by wild boar.   Specifically to salamanders and ladyslipper orchids!  How maddening!  Wild boar in Georgia are invasive pests that dig up vegetation in large areas of forest as they root around for acorns, plants, and even little critters to eat, and they wallow in springs and streams which fowls up water sources.  Plus they transmit disease.  Hogs were introduced to North America as livestock, but became feral upon escaping from captivity.  They also interbred with European wild boars that were introduced for hunting, and the wild boars are a hybrid mix of these wild and domesticated types.  They certainly don't belong here, and I was glad to read that the DNR has an aggressive control and eradication effort underway.


Really interesting article in the New Yorker on the problem of wild boar:  
    HOGS WILD. By Frazier, Ian, 12/12/2005, Vol. 81, Issue 40.

How wild boar aren't a problem for hikers:

For hunters, but talks about the Warwoman Wildlife Management Area, where I was hiking:

Information about wild boar in the Smokies:

Trip Details:

This was a New Years eve solo, out and back, overnight from Warwoman Dell north on the Bartram Trail up towards Windy Gap.


  1. I've always been fascinated by people who are afraid of feral pigs. Walk in just about any wild place in Florida and you will encounter them (sans SW Florida---the panthers have picked them off for the most part). I have never felt uncomfortable with them, even with a herd of piglets around. We've stood there numerous times to watch them, give them enough distance and then move on.

    When we went through the Smokies on the AT people were talking about boar but we never saw any (doubtless they were down in the valley at that time as nothing was green in the mountains yet).

    As with any wild animal I'd be cautious but I wouldn't be afraid (unless we're talking grizzly!). *shrugs*

  2. That's a really great distinction you make between being cautious and being afraid. I'm glad to hear you've never been uncomfortable around feral pigs. I see their rooting quite often in some areas, but like I said this is rare for me to actually see them. However, this is one of my favorite local trails, so when I go back, I'm just going to be cautious but I'm happy I don't have to avoid the area or anything.