Sept. 12, 2002 – As part of its plan to reduce the number of non-native animals in the Virgin Islands National Park, the staff is about to tackle the hundreds of hogs running wild in the park on St. John.
Hogs are a problem in areas around Reef, Lameshur, Cinnamon and Maho Bays, according to Rafe Boulon, the park's resource management chief. He said a count has not been done, but there are a couple hundred of them.
Sows breed when they are six months old and can produce up to two litters a year with as many as 10 piglets in each litter. Hog populations can double each year if they have sufficient food and water.
They eat grain, fruit, fish, fowl, dead animals and vegetables. They often root in the soil to dig up dinner. Those that root around historic structures can accelerate degradation of the buildings. "They've done a lot of rooting at the ruins at Cinnamon and on the loop trail," Boulon said.
Hogs are known to eat plants on the endangered species list, including the St. Thomas lidflower and prickly ash. They also eat marron bacora, which has been proposed for the endangered list.
And their dining habits can clear areas of vegetation, which leads to erosion. The eroded soil that's washed into the sea smothers the coral reefs, which harms the larger marine ecosystem.
A draft environmental assessment of the island's hog population will be available in several weeks at the territory's public libraries and at park headquarters offices on St. John and St. Croix. It also will be available on the
Internet at the National Park Service and Friends of the V.I. National Park Web sites.
The first step in the undertaking is to determine how to control the hog population. Since the park's enabling legislation does not allow hunting, Boulon said, inviting local hunters to shoot the animals is not an option. However, one possible scenario calls for volunteers to assist the U.S. Department of Agriculture in shooting the hogs, with the carcasses to go home with the volunteers.
The park did allow hunting until the mid-1980s, when the staff became aware that the enabling legislation prevented it. Within about three years, the number of hogs grew to such a level that visitors and park rangers complained about them. "When they become wild, they can become very aggressive," Boulon said.
He said domestic hogs left to roam will revert to the wild state within a few generations and grow coarse, red hair and long, sharp tusk that characterize wild hogs. The adults can weigh 300 to 400 pounds. "They could rip you up real bad," Boulon said.
Boulon also provided an update on the efforts under way to get rid of rats, cats and mongooses in the park..
He said Animal Care Center of St. John members and volunteers have trapped nearly all of the wild cats that had been living in the park. They've been relocated to new homes or to feeding stations outside the park, except for those found to have diseases, which were humanely put to sleep.
The rats and mongooses are another matter. Boulon said a U.S. Department of Agriculture team was due to arrive in August to deal with the pests, but their visit has been delayed. He now expects them in October. The rat and mongoose populations will be reduced by baiting food they eat with an anti-coagulant that causes the animals to die humanely by internal bleeding — they go to sleep in their burrows and don't wake up, Boulon said last spring in describing the plans.
For more information, call Boulon at 693-8950, ext. 224.
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