The wild hog is not native to the United States. Thanks to the Europeans in the early 1900s, a shipment of wild boar was transported to a private game preserve on Hooper Bald in western North Carolina. Hooper Bald is located 15 miles southwest of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP) boundary in what is now the Nantahala National Forest. Some of the wild boar escaped from the preserve and reached the park by the late 1940s. These wild boar interbred with domestic pigs, the result of which was hybrid wild hogs (the hybrid’s speed was decreased but the increase in gas mileage was significant!).
The wild hogs seen in the park today still carry the characteristics of the European wild boar, including black hair, long legs, and tusks. However, some of the hogs have a white blaze (how appropriate for the white blazes of the Appalachian Trail) on their faces indicating their hybrid nature. Recently more and more boars are establishing their homes in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, which is causing some ecological problems. Their rooting rips up the forest floor and they also compete with deer and bear for food.
These wild hog will not win a beauty pageant on the trail – “Porky” may weigh up to 300 pounds, although most adult male hogs in the Smokies weigh about 125 pounds – that’s still a lot of bacon. The hogs are three and a half to five feet long and stand two to three feet at the shoulder. They possess 44 teeth including a well developed set of canines – a dentist’s nightmare. Coat color varies from gray to black, and most piglets have longitudinal stripes until they are about four months old. Hogs have poor eyesight (otherwise they would never fall in love with one another), but they make up for it with a keen sense of smell and hearing.
Wild hogs are usually nocturnal, but are occasionally the hiker will see them during the daytime. Like their domestic relatives, wild hogs will eat almost anything: flowering plants, mushrooms, snails, bird eggs, salamanders, and thru-hiker food bags. They love acorns, pecan, hickory and beech nuts. They will also eat grass, roots, tubers and berries in addition to crayfish, snakes, salamanders, frogs, and young rabbits.
The wild hog population in the GSMNP just a few years ago was estimated at 2,000. Due to an intentional effort toward population control, the current population is estimated to be a few hundred.