Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Ga. protects sea-turtle nests with full-time wild-hog hunter

Corey Elrod (Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
In an effort to save endangered loggerhead sea turtles, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources has taken an unusually aggressive approach: a full-time hunters of wild hogs. Corey Elrod, 29, whose official title is "hog control technician," lives alone on Ossabaw Island, a 40-square-mile island of wild marshes, forests, swamps and beaches just below Savannah. Feral hogs eat newly laid turtle eggs from May to September, so Elrod's job is to pick off the swine with his AR-15.

"I never would’ve imagined that this would be my job. But I sure enjoy doing it," Elrod told Dan Chapman of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who did a story on it. Chapman reports that Elrod has killed an average of 1,117 hogs per year since he was first hired as an hourly hog hunter in May 2010. The year after that, he was hired full time. He uses dried corn bait, thermal-imaging scopes, two dogs, and traps.

Chapman says Elrod is the only full-time government-paid wild board hunter in the South, but most other Southern states have programs dedicated to eliminating most of the hogs. Some states have managed hog hunts, and in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma hunters can shoot hogs from helicopters. Texas has a particularly bad hog problem, and has legalized not only hunting from helicopters but hot air balloons (which are quieter than helicopters), and pays hunters for hog carcasses. South Carolina has hired three hog hunters like Elrod, but they're contract workers rather than full-time.

Why all the fuss? Hogs are an invasive species thought to have been introduced by Christopher Columbus and other Spanish explorers. They breed rapidly and "compete with native animals — deer, squirrels, ducks and turkeys — for food and devour ground-nesting birds, reptiles and amphibians," Chapman reports. "Their incessant rooting destroys vegetation, creates wallows and furthers erosion." All told, the hogs roam 39 states and cause $1.5 billion in damage to crops and infrastructure each year. The boars also spread diseases like brucellosis and pseudorabies.

Elrod's work has yielded good results. Georgia DNR wildlife biologist Kara Day told Chapman that seven years ago, hogs were everywhere on the island. "In the five years before Georgia hired a marksman (Elrod was the third sniper), 31 percent of loggerhead turtle nests were partially destroyed by hogs and other predators. In the last five years, only one of every 10 nests has been partially destroyed," Chapman reports.

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