Year of the Wild Hog

A story appeared the other day in the Washington Post about a perennial problem in Islamabad where wild boars foray into the city looking for food among the trash during the winter.

Something about the tone of the piece struck me as a little off. I mean, sure, Muslims don’t eat pork, but are wild pigs really “many Muslims’ worst nightmare” as author Nicholas Brulliard writes in the first sentence? Would it be the “worst nightmare” of Jews? Their religious views and dietary restrictions ragarding pigs are essentially the same, but I have to wonder if an infestation of pigs in Tel Aviv would be portrayed as “many Jews’ worst nightmare” or if the opinion of a brickmaker who lived near one of the ravines the pigs came from would be said to avoid “even making eye contact with one” despite his claim of not being afraid of them. Who gets into a staredown with a wild boar, in the first place?

On the other hand, there’s this video of a bunch of guys at IQRA University watching some rather fast boars looking for a way out of a parking lot. They’ve got sticks—presumably in case the hogs come their way—but they don’t seem any more afraid than you might be when several hundred-pound-plus pigs are racing around at twenty miles an hour.

It almost seems like the story’s a set-up for some sort of bright boy in the Pentagon to come up with a sort of reverse-“Operation Dumbo Drop”, where pregnant pigs are parachuted from planes into Pakistani ravines in some sort of destabilization effort. Predictably, the anti-Islamic racist web sites are all over the story with jokes about how it’s too bad for the pigs that they have to live near Muslims, that Muslims are jealous because they can’t have as many “piglets” each year, etc.

Of course, if they (or the folks at the Washington Post) bothered to read, they’d know that The New Yorker sent Ian Frazier to cover stories of wild boar infestations in the US some six years ago.

As I leaned over the map and studied it with Joe Corn, suddenly my attention swerved. This map, with its intricate little counties and occasional whole states shaded green to highlight the potential disease-vector threat of wild hogs, reminded me of the red state — blue state map of America. At first glance, the states that voted for George Bush in 2004 and the states marked on this map as having feral hogs seemed to be one and the same. I mentioned this oddity to Joe Corn, who, scientist-like, declined to comment beyond the area of his expertise.

Afterward, I could not get this strange correspondence out of my mind. I compiled ’04 red state — blue state data and matched it with SCWDS hog-population information on the map of that year. I found my first impression to be essentially correct. The presence of feral hogs in a state is a strong indicator of its support for Bush in ’04. Twenty-three of the twenty-eight states with feral hogs voted for Bush. That’s more than four-fifths; states that went for Kerry, by contrast, were feral-hog states less than a fifth of the time.

The solidly feral-hog South was, of course, solidly for Bush. The small islands there without wild hogs — Little Rock, Raleigh-Durham — voted for Kerry. Democrats who predicted a Kerry win in Florida in ’04 might have been less confident had they known that all of Florida’s sixty-seven counties, even its urban ones, have feral hogs. Texas, a gimme for Bush, is the state in the Union with the most feral hogs. Estimates of the feral-hog population in Texas are more than a million and a half, though nobody knows for sure. To go along with its high feral-hog numbers, Texas produced more than four and a half million votes for Bush in ’04, the second-largest total of any state.

A prominent feature of the red state-blue state map is the sweep of red coming up from Texas and the South through the center of the country. Experts say that feral hogs are starting to do the same. They have increased their numbers in Oklahoma and appeared in counties in Kansas and Nebraska, where they weren’t previously. An A.P. news story from last year described packs of wild pigs tearing up yards and destroying crops in Sumner County, in south-central Kansas. People there speculated that the pigs were formerly domestic animals that had been turned loose when hog prices crashed some years before. Sumner County preferred Bush to Kerry in ’04 by a margin of sixty-eight per cent to thirty-one per cent.