(Steve Hillebrand/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service handout)
Securing a Texan’s right to shoot wild pigs from a helicopter may have been Sid Miller’s best-known accomplishment before this week.
The state’s agricultural commissioner hangs a boar’s head and toy chopperoutside his office to remind people of the law he got passed, the Austin American-Statesman reports.
But Miller has never stopped searching for better ways to kill some 2 million feral hogs in Texas that the commissioner accuses of eating newborn lambs, uprooting crops and “entire city parks,” trampling across highways and causing more than $50 million in damage a year.
The search is over, Miller announced Tuesday: “The ‘Hog Apocalypse’ may finally be on the horizon.”
Miller said he would return his entire research budget to the state. He doesn’t need it anymore, he says, after finding “a new weapon in the long-standing war on the destructive feral hog population.”
It’s called warfarin: the pesticide with war in its name. Pigs eat it. It kills them slowly, often painfully, and turns their innards blue. It’s already wiped out swine herds in Australia, which later banned the product as inhumane.
The Environmental Protection Agency just approved it.
Hunters and wildlife experts, not so much.
More than 3,000 have signed the Texas Hog Hunters Association’s petition against Miller’s chemical war.
“If this hog is poisoned, do I want to feed it to my family?” the group’s vice president, Eydin Hansen, asked the Dallas CBS affiliate. “I can tell you, I don’t.”
Stephanie Bell, an animal-cruelty director for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said in a statement that feral hogs “should not be sentenced to death simply for trying to forage and feed their own families.” She noted correctly that feral boars were brought to the United States to be hunted for sport before they proliferated across Texas and other states.
Tyler Campbell, a former researcher with the U.S. Agriculture Department, led the agency’s feral-hog studies in Kingsville, Tex., for several years, when warfarin was first tested on pigs in the United States.
“It was fast-tracked,” he said.
The test results weren’t pretty, he said. Marketed as Kaput Feral Hog Bait, the product is comparable to rat poison — with similar effects.
“They bleed,” Campbell said. Internally and externally, usually for a week or more before they die.
Just as concerning, he said, were difficulties in preventing other species from eating the poison — which is known to paralyze chickens, make rats vomit and kill all manner of animals.
The EPA regulations — which Texas plans to strengthen by licensing warfarin’s use — requires hogs to be fed the poison out of bins with 10-pound lids.
The lid tactic won’t work, Campbell said. Before retiring from government research a few years ago, he saw a study in which raccoons lifted much heavier lids in search of food.
“The wildlife community at large has reasons to have concerns,” he said.
Some people are worried in Louisiana, where officials are considering using warfarin on the state’s population of feral hogs.
“We do have very serious concerns about non-target species,” state wildlife veterinarian Jim LaCour told the Times-Picayune.
Even if only hogs can get to the bait, LaCour said, “they’re going to drop crumbs on the outside.” Those crumbs might then be eaten by rodents, which might be eaten by birds, and thus warfarin could spread throughout the ecosystem.
People should be concerned too, LaCour said: Millions take low doses of warfarin, like Coumadin, to prevent blood clots. Ingesting more from poisoned game could be “very problematic,” he said.
Miller isn’t worried.
The commissioner’s office didn’t reply to requests for comment. But in a statement to the CBS station DFW, he said years of testing prove that other wildlife, or pets, “would have to ingest extremely large quantities over the course of several days” to get sick.
Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller has a plan to kill wild pigs. (Eric Gay/AP)
As for the hunters’ objections, Miller said a blue dye will make poisoned hogs obvious long before they reach the oven.
“If you want them gone, this will get them gone,” the commissioner told the Statesman.
As precedent, he pointed to Australia, where he said warfarin “was used for many years” on feral hogs.
It was — in experiments that concerned government officials so much they later banned its use on grounds of “extreme suffering.”
“It is considered inhumane and its use is being phased out in all states and territories,” reads an Australian government assessment from 2009, shared with The Washington Post by Campbell.
The poison was effective, granted. It proved as apocalyptic as Miller promises, taking just a few months to wipe out an estimated 99 percent of wild pigs in Sunny Corner State Forest during an experiment in 1987.
Other studies described poisoned hogs’ last days in explicit detail: Some were lucky; massive internal bleeding killed them quickly after they ate warfarin. Most suffered for a week or more — one pig for a full month before it died.
“Animals moved only if approached closely and spent most time lying in shelter,” researchers wrote in Australian Wildlife Research in 1990.
Some leaked blood from their eyes or anuses. Many bled internally — sometimes into their joints, causing severe pain. An autopsy revealed one pig’s liver had fused to its stomach.
Being shot from a helicopter, the Australian government concluded, was objectively less cruel.