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ETC. Photo of the day by Daniel DreifussOut on an early-morning pig hunt in South County. Submit your best horizontal photos. (Please include the location where the photo was taken in the caption.)

The presence of wild pigs in Monterey County is complicated.

Good morning. 

Christopher Neely here, coming up for air after spending more than a month completely engrossed in trying to navigate the world of wild pigs in Monterey County.

And let me tell you, that world is fascinating. It’s filled with a variety of characters, from the “godfather” of California wild pig research to guns, traps, millions of dollars in damage, government funded extermination programs, deadly viruses, an oxymoronic relationship between invasive pigs and the ability to preserve native lands, and, best of all, a link to a Jazz-age Monterey County socialite and The Great Gatsby.

All this is part of the cover story in this week’s print edition of the Weekly. It is the tale of wild pigs in this county: what they are, how they got here, their impact on the land and the tension they create among parks, conservation, landowner, hunting, and agricultural interests.

I became interested in this story during my first week on the job here. As Bryan Flores, now interim parks chief for the county, took me on a tour of Toro Park just before it reopened, he told me about the damage wild pigs were capable of and how the county has to contract with a trained trapper to lure the pigs into traps and then shoot them.

It sounds brutal because it is, especially when you consider that some research has determined pigs to be among the most intelligent animals, possessing “complex ethological traits similar, but not identical, to dogs and chimpanzees,” according to a 2015 paper published in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology by authors Lori Marino and Christina Colvin.

It’s impossible to get into the mind of a pig. But if for a moment we can project our own ideas of intelligence onto the porcine brain, existential questions may crop up for the feral hog or the wild boar who find themselves defenseless inside traps in county or state parks, preparing to be killed by gunshot. Why is the last thing they see the bars of a trap while local deer, bobcats and coyotes are given a chance to avoid their predator? Why, once trapped, can’t they be relocated like bears? And why don’t pigs in their native Europe suffer the same systemized fate?

The folks who do this dirty work aren’t given much choice in the matter. It all goes back to state laws that make it illegal to transport a live invasive species, whether it’s pampas grass, eucalyptus trees or a wild piglet. This means, once trapped, there is only one way out. Park ranger Jon Anthony says a quick painless death for a pig in a trap is the best and most ethical way to handle this problem.

And experts say all we’ll ever be able to do is simply handle the issue rather than solve it because of how quickly pigs reproduce. One expert I spoke with (yes, the aforementioned “godfather”) told me we’d have to kill 70% of the state’s pig population every year just to keep the population even. There is no solving this problem, he says, unless you build a fence around California and use a sniper-armed helicopter—a method which has proven successful in some parts of the state.

But not everyone wants these pigs to disappear. Despite the damage they cause, they also allow for the preservation of some native habitats and, for some, a livelihood. This is where the presence of pigs gets complicated, and where the story gets interesting.

Have thoughts on pigs or the cover story? I would love to hear from you.

-Christopher Neely, staff writer, chris@mcweekly.com 

Read It Now
BY THE NUMBERS

Feral swine, a non-native species in the Americas, can now be found in at least 35 states, including nearly every county in California. The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that the territory of these animals has expanded greatly in the past 40 years—and estimates that the total population is over 6 million (and growing).

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On the Cover
Wild pigs are wreaking havoc in Monterey County. Their presence here is complicated.
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