Eventually, some of the wild boar escaped from the preserve and reached the park by the late 1940's. Interbreeding between the wild boar and domestic pig stock during the boar's movement toward the park resulted in hybrid wild hogs. The wild hogs seen in the park today are descendants of these animals, even though most still carry the characteristics of the European wild boar, including black hair, long legs, and tusks. However, some of the hogs have a white blaze on their face which indicates the hybridization that has occurred.
Although the maximum weight for a wild hog is 300 pounds, most male hogs in the Smokies weigh about 125 pounds. Females weigh slightly less. Hogs are 3 1/2 - 5 feet long and stand 2 - 3 feet at the shoulder. Both sexes have 44 teeth including a well developed set of canine teeth. The upper tusks act as "whetstones" to keep sharp edges on the lower ones. Coat color varies from gray to black, and most piglets have longitudinal stripes until they are about four months old. Hogs have poor eyesight, but a keep sense of smell and hearing.
Wild hog piglets weigh about two pounds at birth. After three or four months, the piglets are weaned and independent of the sow. Family groups usually break up once the young reach sexual maturity, which is usually within a year of birth for both males and females. Gestation is approximately 100 - 125 days, and most litters have 3 - 8 piglets.
Reproduction depends on the food supply, especially the availability of mast (the hard fruit from the forest trees, including acorns and beechnuts). During years of mast failure, reproduction ceases, and even adults may die of starvation. Because of the abundance of habitat and food in the Smokies, the average hog has a life expectancy of about eight years.
Found mostly in the western two-thirds of the park, the hogs experience migratory movements in search of food. Because hogs have no sweat glands, they move into the cooler climate of the higher elevations during the spring and summer to help regulate their body temperature. The understory growth of both the beech and northern hardwood forest provide an abundance of bulbs, tubers, and wildflowers. At the end of summer, the hogs move down into the oak forests to feed on acorns and other mast. Male hogs are mostly solitary, except during the breeding season, while females and piglets gather in groups of two to three animals.
Wild hogs are usually nocturnal, but they will have some daytime activity. Like their domestic relatives, wild hogs will east almost anything: flowering plants, mushrooms, snails, snakes, small mammals, bird eggs, salamanders, and carrion. But the mast crop is the mainstay of the wild hog diet. Because they have no sweat glands, hogs wallow in wet, muddy areas to keep cool and rid themselves of parasites. Wallowing is detrimental to the soil and plant life in the vicinity.
The hog behavior of rooting while searching for food causes the most damage to the park. Many plant species, including ones that are rare or that take several years to flower, are eaten, trampled, or uprooted by the rototiller action of a foraging hog. Native animals are also victim to the wild hog through direct consumption, destruction of habitat, and competition. For example, red-cheeked salamanders, which are endemic to the park, are commonly found in hog stomachs.
Both wallowing and rooting contaminate streams, causing potential problems for the native brook trout. Hog occupied drainages have been found to have a higher concentration of coliform bacteria than unoccupied drainages. These bacteria contaminate water sources, which is a health consideration in heavily used recreational areas such as the park.
The wild hog is an exotic species to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. National Park Service policy is that manipulation of populations of exotic plant and animal species, up to and including total eradication, will be undertaken whenever such species threaten the protection or interpretation of resources being preserved by the park. The park has found that a combination of trapping and direct reduction methods has proven to be the most successful in reducing the numbers of these non-native mammals. Since the invasion of the wild hog in the late 1940's, nearly 7,500 animals have been removed by trapping and/or shooting. Many of the hogs removed from the park are trapped and transported to wildlife management areas to be released for hunting purposes. Of the total number of animals removed, nearly 6,500 hogs have been removed since 1977. In that year, the park devoted personnel exclusively for wild hog control to establish an overall consistent removal effort. Funding by the National Resources Preservation Program (NRPP) has been the most important component in allocating resources for the establishment of an effective removal program. Since 1986, the first year of NRPP funding, over 3,800 hogs have been removed from the park. Prior to 1986, an estimated 2,000 hogs inhabited the park. Current population estimates are only a few hundred animals.
There is continual monitoring of wild hogs in the park, including periodic serological surveys to determine any infectious diseases of hogs in the park. Vegetation monitoring in fenced off areas called "hog exclosures" gives researchers a chance to study what happens to forest succession and species populations after hogs have been excluded from that particular ecosystem. Past research has included a rooting index which indicates the distribution of hogs in the park, and a bait enhancement study to determine if the hogs had a bait preference in an effort to facilitate trapping methods.
The Smoky Mountain Mall would like to thank the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for supplying us with this information.
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