Hog Hunters Help Sea Turtles in South Carolina

Endangered loggerhead sea turtles are benefiting from hunters and DNR trappers responsible for killing 300 hogs on South Carolina’s North Island since 2008. Feral hogs reached the island about 15 years ago, either by wading salt marshes or swimming, and have preyed on sea turtle nests ever since. As recently as 2011, hogs were snatching turtles from 138 of 158 nests on the island.

A special three-week hunting season is an important part of the South Carolina DNR’s management plan. Hunters from across the southeast bring their dogs and travel by boat to the isolated 3,000-acre barrier island, which has no bridge to the mainland. The success rate among the hunters was very low this year, a sign that the special hunt is achieving its objective of eradicating hogs. In the last three years, hogs have destroyed fewer than five turtle nests per year.

Stevie Sligh of Newberry, South Carolina, traveled nearly 200 miles to participate in the hunt this year. "You're helping with the sea turtles, and you're also getting rid of the hog problem," Sligh told the Charlotte Observer. "At the same time, you're having fun, doing what you like to do." With hog predation of turtle nests reduced to almost zero on North Island, biologists are hopeful that pigs can be controlled if and when they reach other barrier islands. "We've learned that you can reduce hogs, even when they are there in great numbers," said Charlotte Hope, a South Carolina sea turtle biologist. "It takes a lot of work, but it is doable."

Jamie Dozier, manager of the Yawkey Refuge, which includes North Island, says the fight against hogs isn’t over. "It’s not something that you can stop working on, because very shortly you could be back in the same situation you were several years ago," he said. "These hogs reproduce so quickly, it’s just an ongoing maintenance issue."