PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LA (WVUE) - For years feral hogs have ripped up levees and wreaked havoc on highway embankments and lawns across Louisiana. Now a new powerful poison could kill tens of thousands of the wild animals.
For the past 35 years, John Schmidt has made his living capturing wild hogs with homemade cages
"Pigs have a language and a hierarchy, and if I can knock out the leaders that makes the others easier to get," said Schmidt.
Schmidt is called in when property owners have nowhere else to turn. And business was very good last week on the east bank of Plaquemines Parish.
It's tough and dirty, but Schmidt loves what he does.
"Now the fun starts," he said as he surveyed two large cages, one holding a trapped sow, the other holding four captured piglets.
Schmidt may be one of the best hog hunters in the state, but he's not alone. Louisiana has had open season on hogs for years now, but hunters have only put a small dent in the population, causing big headaches for homeowners.
"It causes numerous problems, damages infrastructure, roots through levees," said Julia Fisher-Perrier. She chairs the Wildlife and Fisheries Committee for the state police jury association. She said the hogs can turn a manicured lawn or levee into mush overnight, as they root for grubs..
"The damage to levees is huge," she said.
As if tearing up lawns and levees isn't bad enough, feral hogs have even torn up communications lines at the airport, posing a threat to air safety.
"There are cables under the grounds, and the hogs got through none of the cables and shut down their instruments," said Schmidt.
Now, what some are calling the "hog apocalypse" may be at hand.
"I think the concerns are controlling the substance itself," said Perrier.
A company called Kaput created a hog poison that the state of Texas just approved for use in controlling feral hog populations.
"Texas is leading the charge, and we're looking at them to see what problems they are having with the process," said Perrier.
The poison would be added to a feeder with a 10-pound lid, so heavy that experts say only a hog can lift it. But first, the hogs would have to get used to eating from the feeder.
"They are used for six weeks with feed in them, and then you put the toxicant in there, Kaput, and you get the entire group of pigs in one night," said Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain.
According to the state agriculture department, Louisiana hunters now kill more 350,000 wild hogs a year. State officials say the annual kill rate needs to go up to 450,000 to significantly impact the population.
"This is an invasive species, and with their diseases they are displacing native species of animals," said Strain.
One big concern - the poison could kill other animals, and enter the food chain.
"I suspect if it kills hogs, it would kill everything else that eats it," said Schmidt.
The state agriculture commissioner said Kaput may be the solution to Louisiana's feral hog problem, and may be approved for Louisiana by the end of April.
"I would say two months, as we watch what's going on in Texas," said Strain.
"It would take the fun out of it," said Schmidt.
John Schmidt isn't convinced that Kaput will work on pigs that he says are smart and finicky.
"The only way I can get a pig to lift a door is to get out of a trap," said Schmidt.
Meantime, he'll keep his traps handy to help landowners deal with a problem that some predict will become a thing of the past..
The state agriculture commissioner said Kaput was just licensed by the EPA. He said the state is now going through its process to license Kaput in Louisiana, and when it's approved, its use will likely be restricted to state residents who are trained and licensed to use pesticides.