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USDA researchers use smart technology to trap feral swine herds

USDA researchers use smart technology to trap feral swine herds
Camera sends images so trapper can study composition of the sounder and wait for all pigs to get in trap before closing gate.

Feral swine continue to be a growing pest concern across parts of the country and according to John Kilgo, a researcher with the U.S. Forest Service, the damage has been extensive.

"Agricultural damage alone was about $1.5 billion a year and that was just damage to crops and costs to those operators of control," Kilgo says. "In forestry operations, they damaged planted trees, seedlings. On a more broad scale, their ecological influences range from mainly competition with other large animals that eat the same kinds of foods to actually preying upon small animals, ground nesting birds for example. They damage water quality."

These are just a handful of the reasons that researchers are looking at outside-the-box methods to control the growing feral swine population, says Kilgo.

"The way traps have worked historically is that it's some sort of enclosure with a trap door, some kind of door that swings closed," Kilgo says. "Sometimes guillotine style, that the door just drops when a pig on the inside of the trap hits some sort of bigger mechanism."

However feral swine run in groups called sounders, so often the first pig in the trap will trigger the enclosure while there are still others in the group that are outside it.

"So, you don't catch the whole group and the ones that are outside the trap then are educated to the dangers of traps and are harder to catch in the future," says Kilgo.

While hunting feral swine is slowing population growth, it is not occurring in satisfactory numbers to prevent an increase in population. This has led Kilgo and colleagues to study whole sounder trapping at a test site in South Carolina.

"We now have the capability to put a camera on a trap that will send images of what's in the trap, which pigs are in the trap, and then can in turn, receive commands from the trapper to close the gate when the trapper is ready if you know the composition of the sounder you're trying to trap," Kilgo says. "You determine through pre-trapping trail camera work to see how many are in the group, what they look like, size and age composition. You can wait for all of the pigs to get in the trap before you close the trap. It's a way that clear technology enables us to get the whole sounder and not leave some out there that are harder to catch in the future."

Similar research and development is being conducted by private companies with more of this technology becoming available to both wildlife control entities and the general public.

"The hope is that pig control will become more doable, more feasible, more effective," Kilgo says.

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