No reason not to have an axolotl for a pet

Charlie Powell

The Palouse enjoys an overall lack of feral animals other than cats or ornamental fish. It could be much worse though.

During graduate school in the late 1970s and early ’80s, the University of Idaho’s Sheep Center would occasionally get hit by three or four feral dogs working at night.

Losses included some traumatic injury to a few sheep, mostly involving the throat, but most died of suffocation. The harassing, herding and barking would drive the sheep into a corner of the pen where they would pile up so that most could not breathe. I think we saw losses of more than 60 sheep once.

The Moscow Police Department was good about helping patrol the area and they also allowed the herdsman to keep a shotgun in his truck. He got a couple of marauders back in the day when shooting was still legal. Then someone stole the shotgun. Eventually it seems, the problem went away as soon as it had arisen.

While there may still be some feral dogs around, there have seemingly been no recent reports. There are, however, some very violent dogs kept by people because they like the way they defend property. On occasion, and I am aware of at least two cases, these dogs left their owner’s property and pursued dogs on a leash in the public right-of-way. One attack killed a pet and the other resulted in very expensive injuries.

Still, it could be even worse than this. We could have feral hogs. Oh, I know, it sounds funny but trust me, once they are established, there is nothing funny about them.

To prove it, call either game agency in Idaho or Washington and tell them you sighted a feral hog. Seal Team 6 wouldn’t get deployed to an international incident any faster. Agents for either agency will come running and will attempt to eradicate the animal or animals as soon as possible.

Feral pigs represent an enormous threat to public lands, public safety and humans who may come upon say a sow and her young. They can reproduce before their first birthday and deliver as many as a dozen piglets twice a year.

A domestic pig that gets loose will revert to its nocturnal and feral nature very quickly. Within months, its teeth will soon become tusks, its meat will become tainted and almost inedible, and its hair will become more course and bristle-like.

A sounder (family) of feral pigs can live in almost any environment, eat almost anything, root up and destroy sensitive native vegetation and attack humans or dogs if provoked or cornered. A nephew who ranches in extreme northeast Texas is plagued by feral pigs. He shoots plenty and he invites others to please come and help. But pigs are really smart. They will alter their behavior quickly to avoid people trying to kill them. Just do a YouTube search and see the lengths people have to go to in order to make a dent in their population.

Feral pigs are so smart at avoiding people who will prey upon them. Their sense of smell and hearing are remarkable and make up for what they may not excel in such as eyesight. The acuity of their behavior and senses have resulted in development of a line of muzzle suppressors and subsonic rifle rounds in large calibers to hide the sound signature.

Needless to say, if you see pigs at large in Idaho’s or Washington’s lands, report them immediately to the local fish and wildlife office and stand back.

Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email cpowell@vetmed.wsu.edu.

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