Despite states removing almost every restriction on feral swine hunting and trapping, wild hog populations continued to grow and spread. Could it be that problem porkers are about to encounter their kryptonite?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is set to test a sodium-nitrate poison that specifically targets feral swine. If the poison turns out to be successful in tests, it would need approval by the EPA to be sold in United States. It would then be up to individual states to approve usage in their state. The product could available as early as 2020, a USDA official said.
Feral swine are a problem in 23 states. The USDA estimates that feral hogs cause more than $800 million of agricultural damage in the United States annually. The USDA says the solution to the problem maybe as simple as a poison that includes an ingredient that humans frequently find in their own diets—sodium nitrate. Sodium nitrate is a preservative, oddly enough, that is used to cure bacon and sausage.
Although sodium nitrate is harmless to humans, domesticated animals and most wildlife in small doses, feral swine produce a very low level of an enzyme that counteracts the preservative. If ingested by swine, sodium nitrate blocks the animal’s red blood cells from pulling in oxygen.
Swine that ingest sodium nitrite quickly become disoriented, lose consciousness and die within two hours after ingesting it.
“It is humane,” said Kurt VerCauteren, the feral swine project leader for USDA. “The feral swine start feeling like something isn’t quite right, and they lay down to take a nap. They lapse into a coma before dying.”
VerCauteren said the solution isn’t as simple as sprinkling sodium nitrate on the ground and sitting back and watching your feral swine problem disappear. Sodium nitrate breaks down quickly in the environment when moisture is present, and the taste is so disgusting that hogs and other creatures wouldn’t be likely to ingest enough to harm them.
“It has to be encapsulated to become a tasty bait,” VerCauteren said. “Think M&Ms. But once it is in a hog’s stomach with all the juices, the encapsulation breaks down quickly and does its job.”
One problem is that once the sodium nitrate becomes tasty in a pellet form, it may harm domestic animals and wildlife if ingested in large doses. The USDA tests will utilize special feeders designed to allow only feral swine to take the product, VerCauteren said.
“The feeders have a trough that is buried, and the feeder has a magnetized lid,” he said. “Hogs are rooters, and it takes 30 pounds of pressure to separate the magnets and lift the lid. No deer, dogs or even the baddest raccoon out there can get in there to get the bait. A problem is that bears may be able to get into the feeders, and sodium nitrate can harm bears. That’s why we are testing the product where there aren’t usually any bears.”
The tests will be complicated. Feral swine first will be trapped and outfitted with GPS collars, so they can be monitored. It will also be necessary to “pre-bait” the feeders with corn to get the hogs used to using them before the sodium nitrate pellets are added.
Trail cameras will also be located at each feeder to monitor if it might be possible for raccoons “to team up” and lift the feeder lids, VerCauteren said.