Can we stop invasive species by eating them? – DW – 21.06.2024

Standing in the kitchen of Dai Due restaurant in the American city of Austin, the strong smell of cooking pork hits my nose, I am worried. I’m vegan for environmental reasons and pork was the first meat I stopped eating – over a decade ago. But here I was ready to try some.

Although I’m worried, I know the meat I’m about to eat isn’t just any old pork. It is from a wild boar, which is one of the most destructive invasive animals in the United States. And because they wreak so much havoc on the environment, they are widely considered better dead than alive. That means it’s open hunting season in Texas year-round, with an invitation from authorities to kill as many as possible.

Dai Due co-owner and chef Jesse Griffiths, who prioritizes local ingredients and sustainability at the restaurant, often features wild boar on his menu. He is among those who see their destruction as an environmental necessity and describes them as an “indisputable source of protein”.

“If there was only one meat I had to say was the best to eat, I wouldn’t even stop. It’s this one, right here.”

Wild boar seen up close in a natural environment
With no predators in Texas, feral hogs roam free causing extensive environmental damageImage: Larry Ditto/Avalon/IMAGO

What are feral pigs and why are they a problem?

Feral hogs are not native to the United States; they are the product of crossbreeding between domesticated pigs first brought by European colonizers and wild boar. Because they reproduce at the same rapid rate as domesticated pigs, their numbers have grown exponentially over the years to about six million across the US, with half in the southern state of Texas.

And as the amount of land used for growing crops has expanded, pigs have had more options for food and shelter. The large fields are like a free buffet and also provide places to sleep and hide from people. Although some have moved to create hunting opportunities, the growth of agriculture has led to the creation of new and destructive populations.

They eat crops, kill farm animals and damage property, both in the countryside and in cities. According to John M. Tomecek, a wildlife biologist at Texas A&M University, they cause “more than $500 million (€461 million) in damage” a year.

The environmental damage they do is much harder to quantify, but includes their appetite for the seeds of native trees and the eggs of local birds and turtles. However, they also damage fragile soils by rooting for food and polluting waterways with their feces. In their natural habitat and in other parts of the country they are hunted by bears and occasionally mountain lions. In Texas, however, they have no predators.

A field of crops flattened and eaten by feral hogs in Texas
A field of crops flattened and eaten by feral hogs in TexasImage: USDA APHIS

Invasive species around the world

This is a common characteristic of many invasive species around the world, such as lionfish in the South Pacific and Indian oceans that are invading the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, or Chinese mystery snails native to Asia that are causing problems in Canada and the United States. . When a non-native species is introduced into a new habitat, if there is nothing to keep it in check, it can be extremely difficult to control its spread.

According to the Intergovernmental Science and Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), invasive species have played a key role in 60% of global plant and animal extinctions. Annual damage from them has now reached over $423 billion (2019 figures), a number that has quadrupled every decade since 1970.

Morelia Camacho-Cervantes, a biologist and director of the Invasive Species Laboratory at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, says the best way to stop non-native plants and animals from taking over is to prevent them from becoming invasive populations. created.

“Once they get to where they don’t belong, you have to get them out very quickly,” she said. “And by destroying them, I want you to kill.”

Can invasive species become extinct?

There are different ways this can be done. Animals may initially be trapped in large groups and killed or poisoned. With intelligent feral pigs, experts say it’s best to eradicate the entire group, called spokesmen, so they can’t teach each other how to avoid humans.

In Texas, people can pay to shoot hogs from helicopters. This is the easiest way to kill all the sound in one go and is also the method suggested by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In many cases—invasive lampreys in the Northeastern United States or goats and rats in the islands of Mexico—authorities actively encourage people to kill the invasive species.

From the plains and oceans to the kitchen

For some, the ability to eat an invasive species makes the call to kill them easier to stomach. In the Mexican Caribbean, for example, edibility has encouraged the population to play a role in removing lionfish.

“The natives started fishing in order to consume it,” Camacho-Cervantes said. “And then they were very creative with the recipes they were making and they were selling a lot. So they were overfishing. And now they have populations that are very small.”

Crete confronts invasive lionfish

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Wild hog numbers in Texas are not yet under control, and given the rapid rate at which they can reproduce, Griffiths doesn’t see that happening. “We have to kill something like 70% of them every year to keep the population where it is,” he says, deftly breaking open a dead pig.

However, he points to another advantage of eating free-roaming pigs in Texas. “Every pound of wild boar we are able to serve is also one less pound coming from a broken industrial meat system.”

I think about this as I take my first bite of pork in ages, and it makes consuming a bite easier. In all honesty, it tastes unexpectedly good. Delicious even. But on balance, I think I’ll personally stick to vegetables in the future.

Edited by: Tamsin Walker


National Invasive Species Information Center

NOAA Fisheries: Impacts of Invasive Lionfish

Invasive species worldwide (IPBES Report):

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