“Watch out for the hogs!!” It was what everyone was telling me. I spoke to a lot of my biologist friends before I started filming Biggest and Baddest, and they knew that I’d be coming face to face with tigers, wild elephants, crocodiles, anacondas and the like, but everyone said the same thing: “It’s the hogs that’ll get you.”
I was in Louisiana investigating the legendary tales of monster hogs that are rumored to roam wild in the forests of the south. Most of the tales of giant hogs are exaggerations, of course, but there even if the size of some of these hogs has been exaggerated, the scale of the feral hog problem certainly hasn’t. Texas is estimated to be home to 2.6 million hogs, and Louisiana can’t be that far behind. Hogs are voracious omnivores, and the effect that their predations have on the livelihoods of local farmers can be devastating. Of equal concern to me was the effect they have on the native ecosystem, especially now that hunters have killed all their natural predators and there are no natural ways of controlling their population growth. Now there is only one predator left: mankind.
We’d been charging through the thick woods for over three hours, ripping our clothes on briars and doing our best to avoid the poison ivy that cloaked the trees and blanketed the ground. Our soundman Adrian got stung by some and his arm blistered so badly that he could barely move it for days. I was following Blane, a tough-as-nails hog hunter, whose dogs were on the scent of a hog. All the dogs wear GPS transmitters, and Blane was tracking them using a GPS receiver. Every few minutes we’d hear one of the dogs bark as we got closer, then we’d hear nothing again as the pig bolted and the dogs followed.
Finally we could see on the GPS that the dogs had stopped running, a sure sign that they had the hog ‘bayed’. We ran like madmen to catch up, finally we stopped and hid, making sure the pig couldn’t see us as it would surely bolt again if it did. Blane whispered into the radio for the catch dogs to be brought up. Hearing the catch dogs coming through the undergrowth is like hearing Cerberus himself coming for you, snarling and crashing through the bush; it’s a terror-inducing sound, it really is. The catch dogs were loosed and off we tore after them. The moment they hit the pig it was a race against time: the sooner we get there the sooner we can get the dogs off the pig to minimise the stress it suffers.
It should come as no surprise that I am very concerned about animal welfare. I knew that this assignment was going to be ethically very challenging for me, we were going to be spending every waking hour hunting hogs, which presented me with quite an ethical dilemma. On the one hand you’ve got the undoubted damage that the hogs do to the environment, which needs protecting from this porcine invasion, and the local economy that is suffering so much from hog-related crop loss; and on the other hand you’ve got the welfare of the individual hogs, who are just going about their business being hogs. Hunting hogs with dogs is undeniably cruel, but it’s also undeniably efficient, and the problem of feral hogs desperately needs fixing. Being there myself, seeing the damage the hogs cause to the environment, and hunting side-by-side with the men who do this every day was the best way for me to truly understand this situation.
Blane and I raced through the woods, followed by three or four other hunters. The pig was huge – we eventually weighed it as 355 lbs, it was jet-black and I could see its enormous tusks slashing away at the catch dogs It was those tusks – or cutters – that I’d been warned about, four razor-like knives at the sharp-end of a highly intelligent and angry animal. I got to the pig just before Blane did and lifted its back legs, trying to control it while Blane wrestled the dogs off. “Hold on Niall, hold on, don’t you let go or this hog will get you!”
Don’t miss Biggest & Baddest: Giant Monster Hogs Friday at 9/8c.