A new, non-chemical product that is being used to control feral pig populations has landed in Hawai‘i, and its availability is raising concern in hunting circles that worry it will eradicate hog populations and with it, their rights to hunt.
HogStop is a is a mixture of ingredients, commonly found in some livestock feeds, that is fed to feral hogs and acts as a short-term male contraceptive on feral boar hogs. It was created by Dr. Dan C. Loper, who has his Ph.D in nutritional biochemistry, in Texas and is a minimum-risk, hormone-free mixture now available in a handful of states, Hawai‘i included.
“We know that the feed is safe to eat,” said Daniel A. Loper, the inventor’s son and business partner. “We’re not poisoning them.”
That’s because HogStop’s ingredients include molasses, corn and salt as well as cotton seed, the latter of which keeps them from reproducing. A natural ingredient in the feed’s cotton seed works as a contraceptive in the male species for four to eight weeks at a time, making them infertile during those stints.
It’s designed as a safe way to control wild pig populations, which is what some private landowners are using it for. It landed on O‘ahu last week, as Hawai‘i News Now reported. Some hunters there are already concerned about the long-term effects the contraceptive could have on pig populations, just as Big Island hunters are having on Hawai‘i Island.
The product has been on the market for about one year. It recently was approved for use in Hawai‘i. California, Louisiana and Texas are a few of the other states where it’s out, as the company works with each individual state to gain approval in their jurisdictions, Daniel A. Loper told Big Island Now on Monday.
“We’re not saying we’re the golden bullet,” Loper said. “But we’re one of those tickets.”
But reaction to the product has been stronger in the islands than anywhere else on the mainland thus far, Loper acknowledged.
That’s because hunting, especially pig hunting, is deeply entwined in the history of the islands stretching back to the days of the Kingdom as opposed to places like Texas, where most people simply see hogs as invasive species and a major nuisance.
There are about 10 million wild hogs in the US, half of which are in the state of Texas.
“The feedback we’re getting is unique because hogs are part of the culture,” Loper said. “And we respect that. We have to be better with our education.”
The product uses natural ingredients, so no artificial flavors could even be added to entice the hogs to eat it. That is why it is designated a “minimum risk pesticide” by government standards. It took three years of trail-and-error in creating the perfect mixture that the pigs would eat in the wild – this after the developers did the research to be able to say conclusively that the ingredients used did, in fact, make the male animals infertile for weeks on end. The company recommends the product be used with a hog feeder, and added to the regular portions the pigs consume about five days out of every month. So, it’s not even the main staple the hogs are eating.
The state doesn’t oppose landowners using the product, either.
Wildlife biologist Jason Misaki with the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife stated that his department didn’t have a wealth of information on the new product and didn’t support the product being used on state State Public Hunting and Game Management Areas.
But, as far as private landowners using it, the department didn’t object.
“From a legal standpoint (based on the Department of Agriculture comment), as long as the deployment is in areas where the landowners have given explicit permission, we do not object,” Misaki stated in an email to Big Island Now. “The design of the product would have potential long-term benefits, but would not solve the current damage being reported.”
The damages reported to which Misaki referred are the numerous complaints from landowners across the state that droves of wild pigs tear up gardens, yards, and most anything else in their path. The nocturnal animals are also known to smash through fences and create a lot of noise while they do it.
But several hunters on the Big Island are concerned about the long-term implications of such a product. To them, population control sounds like eradication, and people shouldn’t have the right to kill off a free-roaming animal with natural feed.
Such an act would cause havoc to the ecosystem but also take away their rights as hunters, a sport, livelihood, and cultural tradition for many people on the rural Big Island.
“Any sterilization we are absolutely, 100% totally against,” said Tom Lodge, of Kea‘au, former chairman and current member of the hunting advocacy group, Hawai‘i Hunting Association.
Lodge said, as other hunters echoed, that to inhibit free-ranging animal’s reproduction means that the animal’s population everywhere will eventually suffer. An irritated landowner altering the ability of a passel of hogs to reproduce is affecting hogs everywhere because they move about. The pigs don’t belong to the landowner to domesticate like that, he said.
“If a pig is left free to roam, it is not for home use,” he said.
Lifelong hunter Stanley Mendes, of Pa‘auilo, a former commissioner for the state Game Management Advisory Council who termed out in December, said a better alternative if the state wanted to control the populations more efficiently would be to open up hunting hours more. As it stands now, hunters aren’t allowed to hunt the nocturnal animals at night. He also questions what the long-term effects will be of such a new, unproven product.
“Like anything, what are the long-term effects?” he asked. “How do we know that it’s safe?”
He, like Lodge, thinks the use of the product is to eradicate the animal. Lodge said the goal of the state and environmentalists for a long time has been to do away with the “ungulate” creature, to which Mendes agreed.
“The first thing they want to do is eradicate, that’s their mission,” Mendes said.
Lodge said he hopes the product is banned.
Loper said it wasn’t about eradication.
The product’s intention is to help overrun landowners. Hogs, Loper said, are prodigious reproducers, whereby if 85 wild pigs were killed off from a field of 100, within one year, their population would be back up to 100, research shows. The short-term potency of the feed allows users to stop using it if populations dwindle, and the quick-breeding animal will be back to reproducing.
“We understand the culture,” Loper said of Hawai’i’s reaction, adding the company is fielding calls from eight other countries. “I can’t say that. We’re trying to understand the culture. We’re mainlanders, we may never fully understand it, but that’s OK. We’re trying. We have to be better about education, that it is safe.”