Feral hogs bring damage, disease to Currituck’s Outer Banks

By on November 13, 2017

Feral hogs have become a wide-spread problem in Corolla, Carova and the rest of the U.S. (USDA Wildlife Services)

The wild horses on Currituck’s northern beaches are the county’s top attraction, a favorite of visitors who trek to Corolla and Carova every summer for a chance to catch sight of them.

But another wild creature that forages in the woods and along the shorelines of the county’s northern beaches likely isn’t anyone’s favorite, with the possible exception of the hunters who brought most of them there in the first place.

Feral hogs, with their sharp tusks, aggressive behavior and insatiable appetite for roots and tubers, persist in the off-road area of Currituck’s northern beaches, despite efforts to eradicate them.


The USDA Wildlife Services Division has tried trapping the hogs, hunting them from the air by way of a sharpshooter in a low-flying helicopter, and shooting them from deer stands, which has reduced the number of hogs — at least temporarily.

“Hunting” isn’t an accurate word to describe the work of the division, said Keith Wehner, North Carolina state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division.

“Our goal is not to hunt them at all. It’s to eliminate them,” Wehner said. But  that goal has been as elusive as the hogs themselves, which are rarely seen by people who live, work or visit the areas around Corolla and Carova.

Meg Puckett, herd manager for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, said she’s never seen a feral hog, although she is very familiar with the widespread ecological damage caused by the roaming bands of pigs, which will devour almost any type of vegetation.

The wild horse fund is the official nonprofit charged with protecting and preserving the free-roaming Spanish mustangs in Corolla and points north to the Virginia line.


“Hogs root, so when they dig up the earth along the marsh, it can cause erosion and pretty bad degradation of the land that they’re on,” Puckett said.

The evidence is unmistakable.

“It’s like a rototiller going through there, digging up native roots and tubers, allowing invasive species to come in,” Wehner said. “They go around consuming everything in their path.”


In addition to competing with the wild horses for food, there have also been instances of horses being injured. Although there’s no concrete evidence linking the horses’ injuries to wild hogs, one horse may have been gored, based on the size and location of a wound to its belly.

“We suspect that there have been injuries from feral hogs,” Puckett said.

However, the wild hogs’ greatest threat to the wild horses is disease transmission, Wehner said. Feral hogs carry numerous diseases and parasites that can cause serious illness or death for humans and wild and domestic animals.

They frequently carry pseudo-rabies, which can kill dogs and other animals, along with brucellosis, a highly contagious disease that can affect both humans and animals and is a major threat to the nation’s pork industry.

The USDA received funding in 2014 to target North Carolina’s feral hog population, and because of the threat to the wild mustangs from feral hog-borne diseases, the Carova area was a high priority, Wehner said.

Corral pens allow wildlife officers to collect entire family groups of hogs. (USDA Wildlife Services)

The USDA Wildlife Service has been trapping and shooting feral hogs in the Carova area for the past three years. Corral traps are the most common method of removing feral hogs, as they enable wildlife officers to collect an entire family group. But if one hog figures out what happens, it won’t return to a corral.

“It’s amazing how smart they are,” Wehner said. “That’s when we resort to a tree stand.”

North Carolina now has a relatively new tool to battle the feral swine population — aerial gunning. The 2016 North Carolina Farm Act allows hogs to be culled from the air, provided they are shot by wildlife control officers.

“We’ve been using helicopters for 20 years, but it’s new to North Carolina,” Wehner said. “We know that it works in marshy, coastal properties.”

Carova was one of the starting areas for aerial gunning in the state. This year, wildlife officers have killed 53 pigs in the area — 33 using conventional methods and 20 through aerial gunning in the spring.

“We’re relatively close to eliminating that whole population,” Wehner said. “But it only takes one guy with a trailer to change that.”

Most feral hogs aren’t escapees from local farms. Instead, they’ve been brought in by people who turn them loose for a hunting opportunity, Wehner explained.

For more information about the expansion of wild pigs, Wehner recommends a YouTube video “A Pickup Load of Pigs: The Feral Swine Pandemic,” a three-part series put out by the University of Mississippi to educate the public about feral swine.

Even a few hogs can result in a population boom, which may explain the difference in opinions on whether they are close to being eradicated.

Sows give birth to eight to 12 piglets at a time, and have a litter about every six to eight months, Wehner said. “It’s not uncommon to see eight to 12 piglets with a given sow,” he added.

He estimates the Carova area’s current feral pig population to be between five and 25 pigs, a number that can quickly grow exponentially, given that people are wild hogs’ sole predator.

The only requirement to hunt feral swine is a valid hunting license, or an exemption from a license. Feral swine may be hunted year round — there is no closed season and no bag limit.

Wehner said his office estimates that there are hogs in 95 of the state’s 100 counties, including Dare, Tyrell and Hyde counties, along with Pasquotank, Chowan and Camden, in addition to Currituck’s population.

Feral swine have a become serious issue across the United States, according to Gail Keirn, the public affairs specialist for the National Wildlife Research Center.

“Feral swine cause major damage to property, agriculture (crops and livestock), native species and ecosystems, and cultural and historic resources,” Keirn said in an email.

“This invasive species also threatens the health of people, wildlife, pets, and other domestic animals. Published literature states that feral swine cause approximately $1.5 billion in damages; however, more recent reports have suggested that the number is between $2 billion and $2.5 billion and our own data support this,” Keirn wrote.

“As feral swine populations continue to expand across the country, these damages, costs, and risks will continue to rise.”

Population estimates for the number of feral swine in the continental United States vary. The National Feral Swine Damage Management Program states that between 5 and 6 million feral swine exist in at least 35 states. Their numbers and range have increased considerably over the past few decades.


  • Bud

    The horses and tourists do much more damage than the hogs, are we going to eliminate them too?

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 6:46 am
  • J ward

    “possible exception of the hunters who brought most of them there in the first place.” “they’ve been brought in by people who turn them loose for a hunting opportunity, Wehner explained.”
    Blaming hunters? Are you 100% sure; or just maybe they have spread here like they have in the other 95 counties?

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 7:41 am
  • jackie harris

    Seems like they could develope something to put into feed (like bait corn) that would sterilize them??

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 7:44 am
  • Arthur Pewty

    If they want to find out who is bringing in the hogs (if anybody is) they need to find out which landowners are charging people to come kill their hogs. Hint: it probably won’t be a farmer. Eastern NC is deer country and every deer hunter knows what damage feral pigs will do to the deer population. I dare say any hunter who admitted to his buddies that he was importing hogs would be in for a bit of “correcting”.
    BTW- There used to be a Boy Scout camp called near Hertford called Camp Yeopim. That place was over-run with feral hogs 40 years ago.

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 10:07 am
  • TW

    According to VA news reports, they had the same problem 2 or 3 years ago and tried the same solution – aerial hunting. Didn’t work, so the next year they sold hunting licences. Hunters found almost no pigs – 2 or 3 I think. Turns out the coyotes had arrived and had decimated the pigs.

    OR, herded them down to NC where they both have apparently taken up residence. Hopefully we’ll have the same outcome.

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 12:23 pm
  • Scott Clark

    Sign me up. I’ll help get rid of them.

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 12:41 pm
  • Billy

    So if hunters brought the hogs there who brung the horses cowboys get real shipwrecks years ago with live stock on them thats how it started mean while wildlife people put coyotes out to kill the hogs said they where fixed now we got coyote promblems breeding here on the obx

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 12:42 pm
  • Gerald

    They shoot feral pigs? Then why don’t they shoot feral horses? Is it because emotions get in the way of logic when it comes to horses?

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 1:01 pm
  • dave

    They’re the only animal that defecates in its own water supply. They’re nasty animals. Shoot them all and give the meat to the homeless or somewhere where it will benefit people. Drop grenades on them from helicopters if you have to…. one well placed on over the herd in the picture would help clean up the beach. Got to get rid of the coyotes too.

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 1:54 pm
  • Weekend Worker

    The horses were left to run free too.

    If she ain’t seen a hog, howed she get any say in this story.

    And they ain’t doing it right, I trapped more than they shot.

    Why waste their meat, just shooting them and let them lay. That’s not wildlife management. That’s wasting a resource! Rats carry more bad stuff, no one is getting out air support for them.

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 2:04 pm
  • Brian

    Most of the hogs are on the federal refuge and us hunters are only allowed the month of October and March to hunt them. The month of October is so warm the snakes are thick as flies and it is hard to get to where the hogs are. The hunters have very poor access, if you walk deep into the swamp where they are most of the time you would have to drag you a mile just to get back to your vehicle.

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 3:54 pm
  • Brian

    The federal refuge is just that,, a place where the hogs can live and hunters can’t go

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 4:10 pm
  • jule

    The article sounds really good, but they neglected to say, in addition to hunting the feral hogs, Fish & Wildlife has brought in Coyotes (not native to the area) and a much larger problem then the Hogs have ever been. The coyotes will actually impact this area on a much greater scale in my opinion than the hogs have for the decades they have been here. I have yet to see the widespread destruction they cause, the pandemic of disease as a result of them being here. But its becoming very clear what the coyotes are doing, killing whatever is in their sight. Are we safe to walk to the beach at night anymore? Are we safe to let our pets outside in our own yard, or might they be attacked by a Coyote, brought here by people who are manipulating the ecosystem.

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 4:16 pm
  • Paul

    Did Hunter bring the hogs or did they get there the same way the horses did just something to think about

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 4:28 pm
  • Deb

    Well there has been groups on tv that hunt these destructive hogs. Hire them to do it. They do it for a living. Some in Texas and Louisiana were on tv. They know the nature of them. And they do more damage than horses and peiple. They literally dig up the grounds and farmlands til it’s inuseable

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 8:13 pm
  • Sunset Beach

    Target the hogs under the live oaks and leave the feral horses running loose on the roads? Just what the northern Outer Banks need; helicopters running up and down the marshes blasting semi-automatic gunfire down on a species that will never, ever be eradicated. Imagine how the waterfowl would react. Any other great ideas for our federal tax dollars?

    Monday, Nov 13 @ 11:17 pm
  • Carol

    When you get rid of the hogs the coyotes are eating our pets. I used to see them or evidence of them all the time, now nothing. Just missing pets. I would rather have the wild boar. What did they think all these coyotes would eat when the pigs were gone?

    Tuesday, Nov 14 @ 8:41 am
  • Shooter Magavin

    It’s a true fact hunters turned them loose up there and in colington to be able to hunt them. I’d love to be turned loose up there for a week with a couple sharp shooters I know and eliminate them with silencers and high powered rifles but it seems like where the pigs are they won’t let us hunt. The problem will go away slowly but not before more damage and disease if they don’t let some hunters do work

    Tuesday, Nov 14 @ 12:59 pm
  • Shooter Magavin

    Jackie the problem is they roam and don’t hit the same spots all the time and once you shoot one over bait they don’t come back, mixing chemicals in is a bad idea, deer eat the corn and other wild life causing more problems, only way to fix this is old school with a high powered rifle and patience

    Tuesday, Nov 14 @ 1:01 pm
  • Willis

    I’m with bud.leave em alone..

    Wednesday, Nov 15 @ 7:31 pm
  • hightider

    You trap them in pens baited with corn soaked in beer and left to ferment.

    Wednesday, Nov 15 @ 10:52 pm
  • Bud

    Horse tours bring destruction and disease to the area too. Should we eradicate them also? (The place would be much better off)

    Thursday, Nov 16 @ 7:22 am
  • SunsetBeach

    About 30 years ago we had a former manager of refuge above Carova that was a friend of mine. We hunted the hogs behind Penny Hill, shot dozens, and he couldn’t figure out why we could shoot so many and he kept seeing more. On the way back south we’d meet a family (no names) that was actually trucking in the hogs (to their own property). There you have it. Funny stuff. So, as a wildlife professional, the next step to cleanse the region would be to get the feral horses rounded up. But that won’t happen, now will it?

    Friday, Nov 17 @ 10:38 pm
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