In San Jose, Rooting For Relief From Feral Pigs
November 10, 2002
SAN JOSE, Calif., Nov. 9 — It has been raining cats and dogs here for two days, and people here are glad. Maybe this means it will finally stop raining pigs.
"The hope is that the pigs will head back to the hills," said Lindsey Wolf, who lives in California Maison, a condominium development at the south end of town. "Now that we have rain, people are waiting it out and hoping for the best."
For the last few months, the condominiums and nearby neighborhoods have been under siege by marauding wild pigs. Hungry and thirsty pigs that walk miles for a meal. Huge pigs that outweigh many of the people who live here. Abundant bands of pigs that enjoy nothing more than gouging the succulent lawns and, when stuffed, making more pigs.
"The grass is torn up 100 feet from my front door," Ms. Wolf said. "There is a big gravel area to the side, but they are not interested in that at all. They go right for the lawn."
San Jose is not your average pig town. The capital of Silicon Valley, it has an international airport, a convention center and a new downtown development, Santana Row, which opened the other day with a Gucci store and apartments that are reported to rent for as much as $15,000 a month.
Almost everyone who cares about the city's reputation is fed up with pig talk. "It is not something we will answer questions about," said a spokeswoman for Compass Management Group, the property managers for California Maison.
But San Jose is also one of those cities that look and act something like amoebas, taking new shapes and consuming almost everything in their way. The city and its suburbs in Santa Clara County have crept toward the ranches and scruffy slopes to the east, territory that state wildlife officials say was staked out long ago by the pigs.
"The wild pigs are worse this year than in the past, but the problem is common," said Lt. Dave Fox, a warden with the State Department of Fish and Game. "There are subdivisions and homes where there used to be farms and ranches. Santa Clara County happens to be the hot spot. Next year it will be somewhere else."
As these things go in California, the pigs have a long history here. Some of their ancestors were the barnyard variety, arriving with prospectors in the 1840's and 50's. (Though most ended up on a spit, some made a run for it.) Another bloodline can be traced to Russian wild boars, which were introduced for hunting on some big ranches, including those owned by William Randolph Hearst, in the 1920's and 30's.
"There was interbreeding, and now we have these pigs in almost every county in California," Lieutenant Fox said.
A short drive from San Jose, at Joseph D. Grant County Park, the pigs are fixtures in the grasslands and along hiking trails. Ms. Wolf, the condominium resident, says she happened upon two sows with 23 piglets in a hike at the park in the spring.
"The babies, oh my God, they are cute," she said. "They look like little striped watermelons. The bigger ones, well, you have to like pigs to think they are cute. The first time I saw the male boars, I thought they were heifers. They are so big I thought they were some breed of small cow."
No one can say for sure, but it is believed the incursion of the pigs into San Jose is a result in part of the unusually dry summer and fall. Before this week's storms, the last recorded rainfall in San Jose was on May 21. The dryness apparently bothered oak trees, which dropped fewer acorns, normally an autumn staple for the pigs.
Tom Pederson, an assistant chief of law enforcement for the State Department of Fish and Game, said the pigs were hardy and, when necessary, traveled long distances for a decent meal. Supper usually amounts to grubs and earthworms, but, pigs being pigs, it can extend to include just about anything they find in the dirt.
The pigs generally show up after dark at California Maison. Though usually content to eat and run, they have been known to chase the occasional unsuspecting resident.
Lieutenant Fox says there has been a pig population explosion in the last 10 years as development has crowded out agriculture. In the old days, farmers and ranchers would keep the pigs in check by shooting them. The meat was even donated to soup kitchens.
Now there is little hunting in Santa Clara County, and the health authorities prohibit serving meat that is not federally inspected.
"Generally, there isn't enough hunting pressure on these pigs in urban areas," Lieutenant Fox said. "Where there is a lot of hunting pressure, we don't have these problems. They have such a reproduction potential that they, more than deer, can get out of hand real quickly."
A miniature pig-trapping industry developed, but with thousands of the animals roaming the hills, no one believes that is a lasting solution. In the past, when trappers attracted public attention, animal welfare advocates rallied to the pigs' defense. (Te captured pigs were ending up in dog food.) The trapping of 4,000 pigs on Santa Cruz Island off Southern California recently began, but only after four years of planning.
So almost everyone in San Jose is counting on the heavens for some pig relief. By late today, the skies had responded nicely with more than an inch of rain, with an equally dismal forecast until Sunday.
"Once there is something to eat somewhere else, hopefully they will go," Ms. Wolf said. "I guess we will find out in a few weeks."
By DEAN E. MURPHY