Auburn University professor receives grant from Moroccan government for wild pig research

By Jessica Nelson, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences

 

 

Agricultural damage by wild pigs not only affects the southeastern U.S., but is also a challenge faced by farmers around the world.

Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences professor Steve Ditchkoff has received an $80,000 grant from the government of Morocco for research and activities to help curb its growing population of wild pigs, which can destroy crops, cause environmental damage and impact other livestock and wildlife.

Ditchkoff, Auburn's William R. and Fay Ireland Endowed Distinguished Professor in Wildlife Sciences, will conduct a pilot study to see whether a trapping method developed by his graduate student, Rob Holtfreter, can be adapted to Morocco's pigs and system of removal. The project developed after Ditchkoff spoke recently at a summit in Morocco as the premier U.S. expert on wild pigs.

The meeting brought together key players in agriculture and forestry in Morocco, including the top ministry officials in those areas. The small panel of international experts also included one speaker from Spain and two from France, and each country's representative presented both the unique challenges and current research from their home region.

According to Ditchkoff, wild pigs are native to Morocco, but have been a growing threat to small farmers in the region.

"They have farmers with two and three acres," he said. "There are parts of the country that are much closer to subsistence agriculture. So this is impacting not just income, but the ability to feed the family and entire villages."

Among the panelists, Ditchkoff was unique in offering possible feasible solutions to pig removal.  Holtfreter's system, called "whole sounder removal," capitalizes on the territoriality of family groups, or sounders, by removing the entire group of breeding females and their young at one time. Ditchkoff emphasizes that this is key; one female left behind will be able to repopulate a territory within 18 months.

"Within three hours of my talk, they wanted to run a pilot study on Rob's research," Ditchkoff said.

Ditchkoff and Mark Smith, a specialist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and an associate professor in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences, put together a proposal that would combine research and extension. They propose to learn how best to control the Moroccan pigs as well as provide educational materials for the farmers whose livelihoods are being decimated.

"There are some things we'll have to learn, but it is achievable," Ditchkoff says. "The farmers are asking for help, but there's no one that can help them there. I think we have a high probability of success with this pilot study."

Ditchkoff and Smith are also planning to host the 2014 International Wild Pig Conference in Montgomery. For more information about Holtfreter's whole sounder removal system, a presentation is available online at http://www.wildpigconference.com/proceedings09/holtfreter1.pdf.

Last Updated: Oct. 30, 2012

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