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A poison plan for feral hogs?

It could work, though probably not any time soon.

A preservative used to cure bacon is being tested as poison for the nation’s estimated 5 million feral hogs.

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The USDA program that began in April includes $1.5 million for the research center headquartered in Fort Collins, Colorado. Its scientists have made sodium nitrite studies a top priority.

Sodium nitrite, used as a salt to preserve meat, can keep red blood cells from grabbing oxygen in live animals. Unlike people and tested domestic animals, pigs make very low levels of an enzyme that counteracts the chemical. Swine that eat enough sodium nitrite at once show symptoms akin to carbon dioxide poisoning: They become uncoordinated, lose consciousness and die.

But baits so far haven’t hit the 90 percent kill rate on penned pigs (feral or domestic, they’re all the same species) needed for EPA consideration. Once it does, approval could take up to five years, Cunningham said.

One problem is creating baits in which pigs will eat a lethal dose. Sodium nitrite tastes nasty and breaks down quickly in the presence of air or water, making it easier for pigs to smell and avoid, said Fred Vercauteren, project leader in Fort Collins.

Microencapsulating the powder masks its smell and keeps it stable longer.

“We’ll work on that throughout the summer,” Vercauteren said.

There are other issues, including keeping the bait away from other animals. The story refers to a solar-powered “Hog Annihilation Machine” that is supposed to open only when it hears hog noises, while delivering a shock to other animals. Is science great or what? We’ll see how this goes.

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