The government is also using Judas pigs, which when released will eventually join wild pigs and reveal their location
Efforts to control Saskatchewan’s wild pig population are beginning to show positive results, according to an official at the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp.
Darby Warner, executive director of insurance with SCIC, says as many as 400 wild pigs have been eradicated in Saskatchewan over the past four years.
Much of that success is the result of a live trapping system capable of entrapping an entire family of pigs, also known as a sounder, at one time.
A large sounder can include as many as two dozen animals.
The province has deployed 10 of the live trapping systems in central Saskatchewan and has contracted operators to monitor and manage the traps, which are manufactured by Jager-Pro Hog Control Systems, based in Fortson, Georgia.
“We’ve got a few areas of the province where we’re focused on,” said Warner.
“We have a program set up where we have trained people that have live traps … and trail cams set up in those areas to monitor for wild boars.”
SCIC is also monitoring pig populations using drones equipped with thermal cameras and Judas pigs.
A Judas pig is a pig that is fitted with a GPS collar and set loose in an area where wild pigs are known to exist.
In time, the radio-collared pig will join the wild pigs, revealing their locations and movements.
Winter snaring has also proven successful, and natural predation by cougars, wolves and coyotes is also helping to control wild pig numbers, Warner said.
Wild pigs, especially young or juvenile pigs, do not travel well in deep snow and prefer to use established trails to get from Point A to Point B.
Young pigs that are forced into deep snow can be easy prey for coyotes and wolves, which are more accustomed to running in deep snow cover.
Live trapping is an effective means of controlling wild pig populations in areas where numbers are high.
The Jager-Pro system uses a pre-fabricated corral system or fence panels with remote-controlled gates.
Corrals are set up in high traffic areas and a feed source, typically grain, is placed as bait inside the corral enclosure.
Trail cams are then used to monitor pig movements.
When trap operators are confident that all members of the sounder are inside the corral enclosure, the gate control is triggered and the wild pigs are trapped inside.
“Once the pigs get comfortable coming into that enclosure, then we can close the gate from a remote location,” Warner said.
“The key is that we take the entire sounder (at once)….
“By doing that, we’re not making them wise to traps or making them wary of the bait that’s being placed on the ground.
“If you can get them to come to bait and you can take them all, then you don’t educate them to be afraid of those areas (where traps are set up).”
SCIC began using the Jager Pro system four years ago and has expanded the program every year since.
The cost of the program is offset by a $50,000 grant from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture.
The program has shown good results, particularly in areas where wild pigs are well established.
Warner declined to say specifically where the traps are being used, partly because the trapping works best when there is no interference from recreational hunters.
“We’re currently working in central Saskatchewan but I don’t want to get any more specific than that ….
“There’s a want … for recreational hunters to get out there and find these animals, and I’m all for that, but it really does interfere with the work that we’re trying to do.”
Warner said there are signs that Saskatchewan’s wild pig population is not expanding as rapidly as previously believed.
Most of the pigs that are being captured in live traps are two- to three-year-old adults rather than young pigs or juveniles.
This suggests that the rate of reproduction may not be as high as expected.
In some hotspots where the live trapping method was successful, SCIC is monitoring signs of new pig activity and is seeing none.
This suggests that control methods combined with predation and natural mortality are reducing populations.
“I’m not naive enough to believe that we’ve eradicated them from those areas but we’ve definitely taken them down to where they’re quite manageable,” Warner said.
“My belief is that (wild pig numbers) … are not expanding as rapidly as they possibly could … and I think we’re having some good success in those areas where we’re working.”
It’s unclear how many wild pigs exist in Saskatchewan but it’s believed that populations have been increasing over the past two decades or more.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Saskatchewan government promoted the production of captive wild boars as a farm income diversification opportunity.
Pigs that escaped from captivity eventually thrived in the wild and have been multiplying ever since.
If left unchecked, a sounder of wild pigs can cause significant damage to agricultural crops and natural habitat.
Over the past 10 years, SCIC has paid out nearly $100,000 on 25 wildlife compensation claims involving wild pigs.
Growers who have seen wild pigs or signs of wild pig activity are asked to contact the SCIC.