Feds end helicopter-based pig hunt early in Havasu Refuge; declare success

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

After three-and-a-half days spent shooting feral swine from a helicopter, federal wildlife managers attempting to eradicate the wild pig population at Havasu National Wildlife Refuge called off the aerial effort early and declared it a success.

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture originally planned the aerial eradication along the Colorado River to span two weeks, ending March 6.

"The eradication efforts proved to be highly effective and efficient and were completed Friday afternoon," FWS Zone Biologist Brenda Zaun said.

All areas of the refuge have been reopened.

The USDA is working to control the population of these wild pigs in at least 30 states. The animals, which are not related to javelina, devour plants and habitat used by certain endangered bird species in the refuge, Zaun said. They can also carry at least 30 diseases that affect humans or other animals.

A USDA sharpshooter firing from a helicopter was able to kill nearly 70 feral swine on the refuge during the operation, she said. The USDA had previously killed approximately 100 wild pigs over the last year to take tissue samples for disease monitoring, she said.

The numbers are on the low end of the spectrum of previous estimates of the pig population -- which was said to be anywhere from 100 to 1,000 animals -- and may provide fuel for skeptics who doubted the efficacy of an aerial attack.

"I bet you they don't get 10 percent of them," said Bryan Butch, a hunter from Lake Havasu, before the operation began. "If you go over it by air, you can't see the pigs. Unless they come out in the open, the brush is so thick in there that they'll get underneath that brush and you're not going to find them."

Zaun credited recent wildfires for wiping out part of the pig population.

"The timing of the initiation of the eradication efforts was opportunistic in that the swine population was likely reduced due to the wildfires and USDA disease monitoring efforts. The wildfires also burned much of the habitat that the feral swine used," she said.

Staff from the refuge and USDA will continue to monitor for swine using trail cameras and watching for scat and tracks and will initiate follow-up procedures as necessary, she said.

The agency's goal is to entirely eradicate the invasive species from Arizona.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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