By Suzi Parker
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - Arkansas loves its Razorbacks when they're on the football field, but not so much when they're in the corn fields and flower beds.
Rural Arkansans are seeing Razorback red as feral hogs are destroying yards, wreaking havoc on gardens and leaving behind their waste.
A far cry from the storied team of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, these destructive wild hogs have become a scourge for even the most forgiving Razorbacks fans.
Extreme drought conditions in Arkansas, especially in the state's southern region, are prompting razorbacks to venture closer to houses and humans as they forage for food and water, state agriculture analysts said.
"It's a terrible problem that brings with it destruction and disease," said David Goad, chief of the Bureau of Wildlife for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Descended from escaped domesticated pigs, the hogs can weigh up to 300 pounds - a formidable enemy for a homeowner just trying to protect their sunflowers.
Three weeks ago, June Moody, who lives near the Arkansas-Texas state line, woke up to discover a large part of her yard ruined.
"These hogs were digging 20 feet away right under my bedroom window and I didn't even hear them," Moody said. "When I went out to get in my car the next morning, it looked like a bulldozer had been down my yard."
Moody said her neighbor estimated there may have been more than 30 hogs - also known as Russian or European wild boars - in her yard that night. That doesn't surprise Goad.
"Animals are very mobile, and they aren't going to stay someplace and starve," Goad said. "They are going to hit the road and find something to eat."
Goad said the hogs are now in two-thirds of Arkansas counties. People are also trapping hogs from other states and releasing them in Arkansas to hunt them, Goad said.
Feral hogs carry many diseases but two critical ones are swine brucellosis and pseudorabies, a swine virus not linked to rabies. If the wild hogs infiltrate domestic pigs, the diseases can spread and even affect humans, he said.
The commission is attempting to eradicate hogs by shooting the ones on their wildlife management lands. Goad encourages private land owners also to trap and kill them. Arkansas allows the hunting of wild hogs day or night on private land.
"If you see one, kill it," he said.
The hogs can ruin crops, kill turkey and deer and root out bird eggs. Goad said hogs have eaten entire rows of corn, which results in costly replanting for farmers. They will also devour acorns, a main staple of a deer's diet, and are often caught pillaging deer feeders.
"A hog will eat any stinking thing it can get its teeth into," Goad said.
Feral hogs can be eaten themselves but 7 to 9 percent of them carry disease. Goad said that people should always wear protective gloves and eyewear when handling and dressing hogs. The meat must be cooked thoroughly before eating.
According to Jaret Rushing, an extension agent for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, feral hogs can produce two litters of piglets every 12 to 15 months and are mature at eight months.
Such quick reproduction creates an inexhaustible problem for Arkansas and many other southeastern states.
"We have declared war on them, trapping and killing them as fast as we can, but we are losing the battle," Rushing said.
(Editing by Karen Brooks and Cynthia Johnston)