By Ray Sanchez
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wild boar are invading the farms of central New York state, attacking livestock, killing family pets, chasing people and posing "devastating consequences" for the area, federal officials warn.
The feral swine are a non-native species suspected of escaping from game farms, and as many as a couple of hundred are roaming the state, said Paul Curtis, a natural resources professor at Cornell University.
While an exact picture of the wild boar population in New York State is unclear, a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the swine were successfully breeding in the three counties and producing litters averaging 4 to 6 piglets.
"We've shot probably 15 to 20 of them in the last three years," said Peter Andersen, a third generation farmer in Long Eddy in Sullivan County.
Noting how difficult it is to kill the wild boar, Andersen described what sounded like a scene from a horror movie that could be called "Robo-Swine."
"We've shot them right square in the head and the bullet will glance off and they'll get up and go. Their skulls are so thick in the front, if you don't happen to hit it at a perfect 90 degrees, with the way their heads have that kind of curved shape, the bullet will glance right off," he said.
Armed with a $230,000 grant from the Invasive Species Council of New York, the USDA last year sought to get a handle on the growing wild boar problem.
According to a USDA report, 27 of the interlopers were trapped or shot and tested for diseases in Cortland, Onondaga and Tioga counties. Two of the animals tested positive for the pseudorabies virus, or PRV.
"In the absence of aggressive professional management, these populations will likely continue their expansion and become entrenched in New York State with potentially devastating consequences to natural resources, agriculture, and human health and safety," the report said.
There have been no reports of feral swine attacks on humans but the animals can be aggressive, experts said. Wild boar can grow up to 400 pounds, with sharp tusks.
USDA biologist Justin Gansowski said the swine have reportedly attacked livestock, killed a Labrador retriever and chased people in New York state.
Said Cornell's Curtis, "There's always the potential for attacks on people... They have four-inch tusks that are very sharp and they can be aggressive, particularly the adult males, and charge a pet or a person if they feel trapped. They can slash with those tusks and create pretty deep gashes and wounds."
Gansowski said a lack of funding was the biggest obstacle to preventing the population from exploding. The federal agency applied for new grant money to deal with feral swine but has yet to receive an answer on the application. Traps used to capture the swine are expensive and costly to maintain.
"There needs to be more funding," he said. "That's currently why we only have one person, which is me. With the explosive nature of the feral swine population, our time frame to do something is now."
Andersen, the farmer in Sullivan County, agreed that additional funding was needed for eradication efforts as well as stricter regulations for game preserves that keep wild boar. For now, Andersen said, the state is losing the battle against the husky invaders.
Desperate residents have formed informal networks to report sightings and call rifle owners to eliminate the swine.
"We have a lot of older retired folks who don't have guns," Andersen said. "They call us and hopefully we get there in time to take care of the matter."
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)