Stray Pig Project
Our partner, Arya Pets in Puerto Rico, alerted us to an urgent situation happening in the eight municipalities of Cano Martin De Pena just outside of downtown San Juan concerning displaced potbellied pigs. The issue started when a few domesticated potbellied pigs were abandoned in 2014. Then after Hurricane Maria hit, the population seemed to explode overnight, with an estimated 1000+ stray pigs currently living on the streets. Pigs were being hit by cars and left to die on the side of the road, some were being killed and eaten, and the residents were abusing others. Jennice had been catching the babies, getting them spayed/neutered, and finding homes for them, but this was not a sustainable goal or even one that would make a substantial difference.
Female pigs can start having babies at just five months old with a litter of 4-20 live pigs. We knew this was a potential crisis and needed to act quickly. Jennice introduced us to the local community leader, Estrella D. Santiago Perez of ENLACE, who informed us that she had contacted the USDA about the situation. She explained that the USDA considered “mass extermination” by trapping the pigs, shooting them, then dumping them in a landfill. WUFAW created a petition asking the USDA to develop an alternative and received over 46,000 signatures.
After starting our petition, WUFAW received an email from the head of the USDA-Wildlife Division stating, “Currently, at this time, we have NO plans or future projects in place to address the feral swine problem in the Cano Martin Community.” That was the news we were hoping for, and we devised a more humane plan. Our idea was to do a “mass sterilization instead.” Our response team would build multiple pig dens, then capture the pigs and place them in them. The VetsForPR volunteered to neuter all the males over several weekends, while ENLACE agreed to provide land in each of the eight municipalities to build the pig dens. Later, we would release the pigs back to the streets or find sanctuaries willing to care for them.
In early 2019, we flew to Puerto Rico and, over five days, built six pig pens and caught over 100 pigs. The neighbors even helped and agreed to keep catching pigs while we finished coordinating the sterilization weekends.
Then, in April 2019, the USDA put a call together with Wildlife Services PR, ENLACE, a few residents, and Arya Pets, stating that they were moving forward with their original plan to “exterminate” the pigs. The USDA deemed them an “invasive species” and said they didn’t need the community’s permission for their initiative. ENLACE was thrilled and requested that Wildlife Services start with the pigs we had already captured!!!!
We held a press conference on the steps of the courthouse, and we even spoke with the First Lady of PR, hoping to convince the USDA to give us more time, but another month went by, and they didn’t budge. Jennice knew the pigs were no longer safe, so we made the heartbreaking decision to release the pigs we captured and destroy the dens to ensure the USDA couldn’t use them as giant traps. It was not the ending we wanted, but we were grateful that we saved more than 40 pigs and found them loving homes.