T exas currently faces a polarizing debate over the use of the anti-coagulant warfarin to try to control the skyrocketing population of wild feral hogs in the Lone Star State.
The recent presidential election seems like a sorority tea compared with the vehemence and vitriol evidenced by both sides in the argument over whether hogs should be targeted with ‘poison.’ Emotions are high, because the stakes are high.
Both factions of this debate have valid concerns, but like many questions that involve wildlife, livestock, and ethics, neither side seems to be listening to the other. I am currently on the fence concerning the use of warfarin for hog control, and therefore I don’t have a hog in the fight,
I will present both arguments, as I see them, in the hope of creating peace. Although, at the moment, it might be easier to talk the Palestinians into carpooling with the Israelis.
Warfarin is not, in fact, a poison, but an anti-coagulant. It is often prescribed for humans as a blood thinner, and although its use must be monitored carefully, it is safe, and even helpful, if taken properly. It reduces the formation of blood clots, which, if carried to the brain or heart, can cause strokes, heart attacks, and death. So, warfarin is not necessarily bad. There are no toxic substances, after all, only toxic levels.
Rat poison has contained warfarin since about 1950, since it causes internal bleeding when enough is taken. All animals and humans are susceptible to its effects, but as it turns out swine are more susceptible than almost all other creatures. Scavenging birds, ferrets, alligators, ducks and quail have been subjected to five to ten times the amount of warfarin necessary to cause the demise of an adult hog, and no ill effects have been found.
Kaput Feral Hog Bait, which is the product in question, has been in development since 2000, and was approved by the EPA in January, 2017 for hog control. The amount of warfarin in the bait is supposedly low enough to be safe if consumed by most wildlife, but high enough to kill pigs. Even if the hogs eat the poison and then are consumed by carrion birds or other carnivores, the risk of harm is evidently slight. The same is true for aquatic critters, should a hog die in a water source.
Since it seems Kaput will soon be available for purchase (though it isn’t yet on the market at the time of this writing), the Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Sid Miller, issued some restrictions on its use. The Texas Department of Agriculture registers all pesticides, and Kaput falls into that category.
The restrictions put in place by the Texas Ag Commissioner, according to spokeswoman Jessica Escobar, required that a licensed dealer or applicator administer the bait, and special feeders must be used, which cost about $1,500 each. The feeders have lids that weigh ten pounds, which should keep most animals from gaining access to the bait. The feeders must be either anchored or attached to a tree, and must be inaccessible to livestock. In fact, no livestock can have access to the baited area for 90 days after the product is removed.
The bodies of deceased hogs, according to Miller’s restrictions, must be suitably disposed of, either by burying or burning. There are also rules about how often the baited area must be checked for afflicted pigs. The Ag Commissioner, it seems, left little to chance.
Even so, according to the Austin American Statesman, Travis County Judge Jan Soifer was petitioned by Wild Boar Meats, which processes and sells hog meat, to block the use of Kaput until more information becomes available. Despite the low dosage of warfarin in any wild hog exposed to the bait, its presence would necessarily be bad for business. Certainly, few would knowingly ingest questionable pork, for obvious reasons.
There is, however, the possibility that any wild animal taken for its meat might have recently been subject to illegal baiting, since some ranchers, desperate to curb feral hog predations, have been known to use rat poison to try to thin the herd by thinning their blood.
There is also the question of ethics. According to Dave Rosberg, DVM, owner of Hill Country Veterinary Clinic in Mason, Texas, warfarin causes the afflicted animal to bleed to death, but it can take up to 72 hours. When asked if the animal experiences pain during the process, Rosberg had no definite answer. If so, the use of Kaput will obviously be repulsive to those of us who believe we have an obligation to treat animals in a humane manner.
Almost everyone agrees that something must be done to curtail the devastating feral hog depredations in Texas, so it’s easy to see why some have hailed Kaput as the answer to prayers. And it may be. But I think we owe it to ourselves, and to the future of wildlife in the Lone Star State, to be optimistically cautious. Texas can probably survive a little longer, just to be sure.
Every cloud, it is said, has a silver lining, and the feral hog problem in Texas can definitely be described as a cloud. Kaput Feral Hog Bait may be our silver lining, or it may cost more silver than we’re willing to pay.
Email Kendal Hemphill at
Email Kendal Hemphill at [email protected]