SAN JUAN – Thousands of Vietnamese pigs are roaming Puerto Rico in what appears to be an unstoppable march to eat and breed on an island that goes through work to contain them.
Pigs forage for food in gardens and farms, knocking over trash cans and leaving a smelly trail of urine and feces, with the occasional stopover to bathe in rain-filled potholes. Ancient pets or their descendants reproduce at such a rate that the island declared a health emergency last year so federal authorities could begin eradicating them.
It is the most recent non-native species to invade communities in Puerto Rico, as previously happened with iguanas and alligators, although pigs have been especially difficult to control and cannot be slaughtered for food because they carry numerous diseases.
Teams from Georgia, Alabama and Florida helped remove 500 pigs in four days in August, but the animals are so numerous and widespread that authorities had to meet to come up with a new plan that they launched several weeks ago, said Gustavo Olivieri, assistant supervisor for the Caribbean district in the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at the United States Department of Agriculture.
Olivieri, alluding to hundreds of pigs concentrated in a poor area of San Juan, the capital, said authorities realized there were many more animals than anticipated.
The problem started about five years ago when people started buying pigs as pets without knowing that they grew to 250 pounds or more. Olivieri says pigs multiplied when powerful Hurricane Maria hit the island in September 2017 because some pigs escaped from confinement and others were released by their owners.
Although there are no official figures, Olivieri estimates that there are now thousands of Vietnamese pigs roaming Puerto Rico, with 67 of the 78 municipalities reporting seeing them.