Wild pigs — not the cute kind you see at the petting zoo but the ones with black bristly coats, narrow snouts and long, self-sharpening tusks — have quietly established themselves in much of Virginia, according to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. The department estimates that there are between 2,500 and 3,000 wild pigs in the commonwealth. That may seem like a lot, but this number is well behind Texas, where, by one estimate, as many as 3.4 million wild pigs are at large. According to biologist Glen Askins of the Virginia game department, 36 states are coping with the consequences of wild pigs in their midst.
Today, the wild pigs that are closest to the District are living around Catlett, about 10 miles southwest of Manassas, according to Mike Dye, a biologist for the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. In five to 10 years, the species could make its debut inside the Beltway, he says.
That estimate stems from the behavior and breeding habits of wild pigs. At about 10 months of age, the animals begin to wander from their mothers. On average, they move about six miles during the following eight months, before settling into a new home range. They tend to roam in all directions, but as the animals head toward the built-up areas close to Washington, there’s less chance that they will be hunted. Biologists such as Dye suspect that the pigs will move northeast along water sources before hooking north along the Potomac.
Wild and feral pigs have come and gone from the state over the past few hundred years. Feral populations were recently descended from domestic livestock, those familiar fat, pink pigs with floppy ears that look more like “Babe” than the beast on the logo of Boar’s Head deli meats. It takes generations in the wild for domestic pigs to revert to a wild-type body. These pigs can have a hard time becoming established in the face of predators such as bobcats and coyotes and direct competition from deer for food. In addition, wild pigs have completely disappeared from Virginia during periods of intense hunting.
But what if wild hogs were imported into Northern Virginia?
Dye and other biologists suspect that this may be what has happened — that rogue hunters who like the idea of having a tough, exotic animal to pursue have trapped wild pigs and transported them into the commonwealth for release. Some have brought the pigs from as far as the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. Dye says that some people from other states “have come forward” about stocking these pigs in Virginia, though it has been difficult to track down the culprits because there are only one or two game wardens per county and they can only respond to complaints and are unlikely to witness a release taking place. The only physical evidence is the pigs — and they’re not talking.