I decided to do another mailbag, but, unfortunately, I forgot to ask for questions. So, instead of taking emails directly from our readers, I decided to answer a few questions that I keep hearing people ask on radio and TV.
Where did all of these feral hogs come from?
Asked about a dozen times by radio host Corby Davidson
This one is fairly easy to answer. The hogs that are currently ravaging crops and wildlife across the United States descend from wild boars that were native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Boars are omnivores that derive nutrition from a wide variety of sources (They can eat almost anything), and they reproduce rapidly for a mammal of their size. Boars evolved these traits as a species as a means of survival. Hyenas, tigers, wolves, and other natural predators in Eurasia make quick work of piglets, so the boars who were able to pass on their genes were the ones who grew to adulthood quickly and those who had more offspring.
The fact that boars can eat almost anything and reproduce rapidly made them attractive to ancient humans. Sometime around 5,000-10,000 years ago, humans in Europe and Asia began to breed boars to make them more docile and tasty. The resulting domesticated pigs made a great food source: they got fat off human leftovers and had plenty of piglets that could be eaten at future dates.
There were few downsides to breeding pigs in Europe and Asia. If the pigs exhibited their wild boar roots and escaped into the countryside, they were little threat to crops because wolves or other predators made them a quick meal. Pigs even benefited humans in an unforeseen way. Because pigs and humans share a similar biology, many swine diseases transferred to humans. Over time, this allowed Eurasians to develop immunities to a variety of animal diseases. Everything was fine while pigs were in the Old World.
Unfortunately, pigs did not stay in the Old World. In 1493, Christopher Columbus brought domesticated pigs to the Western Hemisphere to serve as food for Spanish settlers on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. With no natural predators on Hispaniola, pigs multiplied rapidly and ate many of the island’s native plant and animal species into extinction. Pigs became so numerous on Hispaniola that Spanish settlers had to organize massive hunts to prevent the animals from attacking their sheep and horses.
Pigs made their way to what is today the United States a few generations later. In 1539, Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto formed an army to follow up on rumors of an Indian Kingdom in the North American interior. Realizing his men would need a meat source that wouldn’t spoil on the long journey, De Soto brought thirteen pigs along with him. As the conquistador and his men marched around what is now the United States Southeast, the pig herd multiplied from 13 to some 700 in number.
When some of these animals separated from De Soto’s army, they turned feral and all hell broke loose. Hogs snacked on native plant and animal species with no natural defenses to swine, driving flora and fauna to extinction. New World jungle cats and wolves tried to do the job of their Old World counterparts in killing hogs, but they were not as efficient in the task. Panthers and American wolves are not as fast, large, and ferocious as Asian tigers and European wolves. In addition, the panther and wolf population began to decline a few generations after hogs came to the New World, as newly arrived European ranchers killed the animals to prevent them from attacking their cattle and sheep.
It was left, then, for humans to keep feral hogs in check. Indians developed a taste for pork soon after hogs arrived in North America, and they may have been able to cull hogs through hunting if not for the fact that pigs brought smallpox to the Americas. Yes one of the pigs that De Soto imported was infected with smallpox. Unfortunately, the people of the New World had never been near pigs and as such had not developed immunities to smallpox, so millions of American Indians died of the pig introduced disease. With fewer Indian hunters, feral hogs grew in number and the animals soon spread as far west as Texas and as far north as North Carolina.
In the 1700s and 1800s, Europeans and later Americans moved on to lands formally occupied by Indians and began hunting feral pigs. Farmers shot hogs to prevent them from eating their crops and seed and killed the animals for food. Americans who moved to the U.S. South and the slaves that came with them ate pigs as their primary meat source. Unlike today, farmers did not keep pigs in enclosures—building wood fences was a costly and timely endeavor—and, instead, loosed the animals in the forest and later hunted them.
It’s unclear whether southerners hunted more pigs than they introduced, but before 1900, feral hogs appear to have been more of a benefit to southerners than an annoyance. Although there are accounts of feral hogs wreaking havoc on farms, there are many more instances of southerners enjoying pork as a part of their meals. Even if hogs were more of a nuisance than a benefit, they were a southern problem, not a national one, as it seems that hogs did not spread beyond the confines of the U.S. South.
Something changed, however, from the 1800s to today. Hogs went from a food source for southerners to a menace to farmers and ranchers around the nation. They now number of six million animals in the United States, and it doesn’t seem like their population will be declining any time soon. Hogs are also living longer and growing larger, evidenced by hunters killing the infamous “Hogzilla” which weighed in at over 1,000 pounds. What happened? Here are a few explanations. The first five come from studies conducted by Texas A&M. The last five are conjecture on my part.
Reasons for a growth in the feral hog population.
1. More water sources. With improvements in irrigation, more private ponds, and with local governments damming rivers to create lakes, hogs in the 20th and 21st centuries have more water sources that any time in the past. This has allowed the feral animals to survive in areas where they could not 100 years before.
2. Veterinary Advancements. One study argues that inoculation of ranch pigs for hog cholera eliminated the disease among feral animals. Without hog cholera, the feral hog population grew. The eradication of the parasitic screwworm has also kept more domesticated and feral pigs alive.
3. Better farming practices and crop yields. Better irrigation and fertilizer have meant more farmland and more crops per acreage of farmland. More crops means more food, allowing an expansion of both human and hog populations.
4. Hunters releasing pigs into the wild to increase the feral hog population for sport. A Texas A&M report argues that the 1980s saw the biggest increase in feral hogs in Texas owing to recreational businesses releasing pigs into the wild to hunt for sport.
5. People feeding wild animals. More people have begun to set out corn and feed for deer. Feral hogs consume much of this feed.
6. Better refrigeration, canning, farming subsidies, and transportation, has meant more accessible, cheaper, better tasting meat sources. In the 1800s if someone wanted meat but didn’t want to butcher a farm animal, they’d have to hunt for it. This was not a preferred option, as game meat is often tougher and less pleasant than that of domesticated animals. With the advent and proliferation of refrigeration, meat canning, and the expansion of roads and railroad tracks, fresh domesticated animal meat became cheap and more accessible. People could just go to the store for the good stuff instead of taking to the woods for tough hog meat.
7. Urbanization and Mechanization. With more people moving to the city for jobs during the Great Depression and World War II, there were less people to hunt hogs in rural areas. Farms becoming increasingly mechanized has also led to population decreases in areas where hogs dwell.
8. Continued elimination of natural predators. Although bear and mountain lion populations are on the rise in the United States, they are still not as populous as they were in the 1800s. Without natural predators, there are few deterrents to hog population growth.
9. Gun control/ hunting license restrictions. I’m going to lump this entry and the next together so they cancel one another out politically. It’s possible that more restrictions on purchasing firearms–with background checks, etc… it’s more difficult to buy a gun than it was in the past–and higher costs for hunting licenses has led to fewer people killing hogs. (This may be in the process of being canceled out. Advances in firearms mean fewer guns can kill more pigs. And states like Texas are placing fewer restrictions on hog hunting).
10. Climate Change. Although climate change remains a contentious political issue, scientists are united in saying that the world is becoming warmer. Warmer weather has meant that pigs have been able to expand into areas that were once too cold to support them. Average rainfall in many areas of the United States has also increased. More water=more hogs.
These are just a few of the reasons for the spread of hogs throughout the United States. We know that something needs to be done to stop their spread, we’re just not sure what. In places like Texas, the government has allowed hunters to shoot the animal all year round and helicopter hog hunting has become a popular pastime. So, become an environmentalist. Shoot hogs from helicopters.
What’s a zebra mussel?
Asked by Cash Sirois on Doyle King’s boat
Zebra mussels are the 21st century’s version of De Soto’s pigs. A hard-shelled, filter-feeding mollusk, zebra mussels inhabit freshwater lakes, where they attach themselves to hard surfaces. Zebra mussels have recently become a problem in the United States because they clog water treatment pipes, suffocate native mussels, and their sharp shells cut human feet.
Like pigs, zebra mussels are not native to the United States, instead originating in southern Russia. Like hogs, humans brought zebra mussels to the United States. The mollusks didn’t come with conquistadors, but instead arrived in Canada in 1988, possibly in the ballast of a cargo ship from Europe. From there, they’ve made their way from one lake to another aboard recreational water craft, recently arriving as far south as Lake Lewisville, Texas (near this writer’s home). Just like hogs, the zebra mussel population has grown rapidly in North America, owing to a lack of natural predators.
Both pigs and zebra mussels are part of what historians refer to as the Columbian Exchange: the transfer of plants, animals, diseases, and people between the Old World and the New. When Columbus and Europeans first arrived in the Americas, they brought coffee, sugar, disease, pigs, cows, earthworms, and countless other plant and animal species to an environment that had never seen such things. These first travelers to the Americas returned to Europe with tobacco, chili peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, turkeys, and other flora and fauna.
In some ways, this exchange was beneficial to the Old World and the New. Highly caloric potatoes from the Americas allowed the population of China and Europe to increase drastically. Tomatoes and chili peppers made Eurasian dishes tastier. European horses made it easier for some Indians of the Americas to hunt.
Unfortunately, the Columbian exchange had a downside. Old World animals—like the pigs mentioned in the question above—wrought havoc on the New World landscape. Sheep deforested and desertified many areas of Mexico by eating thousands of acres of grass. And as mentioned above, Old World diseases killed some 80 percent of the New World population.
Over time, the Old and New World adjusted to the Columbian Exchange. The American Indians who survived the onset of European diseases passed immunities on to their children. Plants and animals died or evolved means of surviving the newly introduced plants and pigs. Until recently, it seemed like the effects of the Columbian Exchange were waning.
Owing to an increase in airline travel, expendable income, and a worldwide economy, the Columbian Exchange has kicked up again in recent years. Boa constrictors—imported from to be pets in the United States—escaped their cages and have flourished in the Florida Everglades. Lion fish, native to the Indian Ocean, have taken up residence on the eastern seaboard and gotten fat by eating native species.
And of course there’s the zebra mussels. As of now, park rangers are hoping that boaters wash and dry their vehicles thoroughly to prevent the spread of zebra mussels. Engineers are also experimenting with using different metals on valves and piping that zebra mussels can’t attach to. Finally, it seems that some native species, like bass and crawfish, may reduce the zebra mussel population.
Who’s killed the most humans in history?
Asked a few years ago by Bob Sturm and Dan McDowell of Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket
On the surface, this seems like an easy question to answer, but it brings up a weird philosophical question: what does it mean to kill? If an individual uses his or her bare hands to choke another human to death, they’ve obviously killed someone. That person is a killer.
It becomes more complicated when you add a weapon. If the person above shot someone with a gun, most people would regard the shooter as a killer. But what about the guy at a console of a submarine who pushes the button that launches a missile to blow up a base full of humans? Did that guy kill the enemy? He essentially did the same thing as the person who shot the gun. Or was it the guy who ordered him to fire the missile? What about the person who started the war? What about someone who through inaction caused the war? Who’s the killer here?
Because of this weird middle ground, I’m going to divide this list into a few different categories. I’m also going to warn that this list isn’t all inclusive and my numbers may differ from others. Numbers become fuzzy over time and, again, the definition of what makes a killer varies from one person to another. Also, this list is morbid. Feel free to skip it if need be.
The person who’s killed the most people based on policy decisions
There is no way to properly measure this. How do you say who is most responsible for a war? Do you count someone’s death if it led to saving someone else’s life? Whose numbers do you believe? I have no idea how to answer any of these questions, so I’m trusting fellow historians.
Having said all that, this answer comes down to three people and no one else is close. One who’s almost universally reviled, one who’s making a historical comeback, and another who’s been worshiped by his people in spite of a shaky human rights record.
Adolph Hitler. 12-50 million
Hitler is obviously to blame for millions of deaths. If you had to pinpoint one person who was responsible for starting World War II in Europe, it would be Hitler (plenty of other people deserve at least some of the blame, however, including the next guy on this list). Hitler should be regarded as a killer, even though the only person Hitler shot during the war was himself. Hitler was also the head of Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. Even using conservative estimates, millions of Soviet POWs, Jews, Romas, handicapped, and homosexuals died under Hitler’s rule.
Joseph Stalin. 20-50 million
The leader of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s, Joseph Stalin, too, helped start World War Two by invading Poland and Finland. So some of Hitler’s death count falls on him. Even before the war, however, Stalin was responsible for millions of deaths. He ordered the execution of countless political enemies, and millions more died in Soviet gulags. Stalin also starved millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s in an attempt to force obedience to the Soviet Union, and his ineffective attempts to industrialize led to further starvation. During WW2, Soviet soldiers killed millions of prisoners and civilians under Stalin’s orders. Although this high death count has made Stalin unpopular throughout the world, in recent years Russians have come to regard the leader as an “effective manager.”
Mao Zedong. 40-70 million
According to the book Mao: The Unknown Story, Chinese leader Mao Zedong was responsible for some 70 million deaths. Like Stalin, Mao was a communist who gained power and used his authority to massacre political opponents. He also led Chinese communists against the Japanese in WW2 and fought Chinese nationalists in the Chinese Civil War. Most of those who died under Mao, however, came about as a part of a program called The Great Leap Forward. In an attempt to industrialize China in order to compete with the United States, Mao ordered farmers to drop their hoes and pick up industrial jobs. Communist collectives would take care of food production. They didn’t. The collectives’ attempts to improve irrigation and crop yields failed horrifically, leaving some 40 million people to starve to death. In spite of his faults, Mao is still a popular figure in China today.
The person who’s killed the most people with one physical action
Thomas Ferebee. 80,000
Thomas Ferebee holds the distinction of being the man operating the bomb bay doors of the Enola Gay aircraft when it dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, resulting in some 80,000 deaths. Obviously, Ferebee was not solely responsible for the Hiroshima deaths. He didn’t build the bomb, he didn’t authorize its use, he didn’t even arm the thing, and he hadn’t even known that the Enola Gay was carrying an atomic weapon when it went airborne. Ferebee was just the guy who unleashed the bomb.
The person who’s killed the most people in person
Vasili Blokhin. 30,000
This next person can’t say the same thing. A General in the Soviet army, Vasili Blokhin has the distinction of being Stalin’s most prolific executioner. Whenever the higher ups in the U.S.S.R. had prisoners they wanted quieted or didn’t want to feed, they brought them to Blohkin. Throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s, Blohkin would sit in a concrete room, dressed in butcher’s apron, where he’d wait until his officers brought in prisoners. Blohkin would then shoot the prisoners through the head using a German pistol (he didn’t trust Soviet manufactured weapons, fearing that they’d backfire). In one month alone in 1940, Blohkin was said to have personally executed 7,000 Polish prisoners. In total, the general executed some 30,000 people.
The person who’s killed the most people in battle
Simo Hayha. 700
Finish soldier Simo Hayha earned the nickname “White Death,” when he killed more than 700 people in 100 days during the 1939 Winter War between the U.S.S.R. and Finland. A sniper, Hayha forwent scopes, as the glare could give away his position, and instead used iron sights to pick off ill-trained Soviet invaders. Although the U.S.S.R. tried to kill Hayha using counter snipers and artillery, they only managed to wound the man in his cheek. Hayha not only survived the Winter War and World War II, he lived to be ninety-seven years old.
Although some historians argue that Simo Hayha had fewer than 700 kills, most recognize him as the soldier with the highest combat body count. There are a number of Russian snipers, including at least one female who recorded more than 100 sniper kills in WW2. In the recent wars in the Middle East, a few Americans achieved this distinction. Navy Seal Chris Kyle, for example, is said to have killed some 255 insurgents.
The person who killed the most people in a single battle
David Rubitsky. 500-600
Although not as well known as Audie Murphy or Alvin York, David Rubitsky was responsible for killing more enemy soldiers than these two men combined… in one day. On December 1, 1942, Rubitsky’s fellow soldiers left him alone to defend a machine gun post in New Guinea against an oncoming Japanese force. Using a machine gun, grenades, and a bayonet, Rubiski mowed down wave after wave of Japanese soldiers, who were unable to isolate Rubiski’s bunker. Although there remains some doubt about Rubitsky’s story, if true, he’d rival and possibly surpass Vasili Blohkin for the amount of men killed in a 24-hour period.
The person who’s killed the most people in separate instances
Serial Killer Luis “The Beast” Garavito. At least 138 possibly 400
Colombian serial killer Luis “The Beast” Garavito killed at least 138 young boys across Columbia in the 1990s, but locals suspect that he may have been responsible for 300 more. Police arrested and imprisoned Garavito for his crime in 1999, but because Columbia does not have life in prison or the death penalty, the serial killer may be released from prison soon.
I could break this down further, but the morbidity is overwhelming, so I’ll move on. However, if anyone has someone else that should be added to this list, please post in the comments section or send us an email.
What’s more dangerous, traveling on hot air balloons or submarines?
Asked by radio host Mike Sirois about three months ago
I tried to a do a historical analysis of blimp v. submarine safety using the number of fatalities associated with each mode of travel, but there’s way too much math involved. Determining submarine safety would mean taking the average number of persons on a submarine, the average number of submarines operating in the world at one time over the past 100 years, the average time per year that submarines were on patrol, and then dividing the whole thing by the number of submarine fatalities. Figuring out these numbers would be a lifelong project. I’m not going to do it. Sorry Mike.
I will, however, do a general comparison of subs v. hot air balloons.
During peacetime, submarines are safe. Only two of the over 400 U.S. submarines used since World War II have sunk (a Russian sub may have sunk one of these two, so it may not exactly fit the peacetime definition). Some submariners have died of fires and other accidents at sea, but the death rate working on a submarine is comparable to other industrial jobs.
Traveling by hot air balloon is also safe. According to this report, there have been sixty-seven hot air balloon deaths in the United States over the past fifty years, making balloon flight some four times more dangerous than flying a commercial airliner, but still comparable to deaths while driving cars. As we’ve pointed out before, early blimp travel was hazardous—see the Hindenburg—but in recent years hot air balloons and blimps have become safer. For example, there has only been one fatality in Good Year blimps over the past ninety years.
What all this means is that for peacetime, submarine travel is probably safer than hot air balloon and blimp travel, but both are much less dangerous than, say, riding a motorcycle.
Although submarines and blimps are safe during peacetime, these things are death traps when a war’s going on.
The U.S. never developed much of a blimp fleet because their airships kept going down while practicing war maneuvers. One blimp lost 90 percent of its crew. Other nations had similar experiences. Britain and the U.S.S.R. also canceled their blimp programs because of training accidents. The one country that used blimps during wartime, Germany, saw a 40 percent casualty rate.
Blimp and airship deaths, however, pale in comparison to wartime submarine deaths. One in five U.S. submariners died during WW2, meaning that submarine service had the highest mortality rate in the U.S. military. Being a submariner for Germany was even more dangerous, as the nation lost 2/3rds of its submarines in World War I. In World War II, 80 percent of German submariners died in the line of duty.
So yeah. I guess the lesson of this mailbag is don’t kill people and don’t ride on submarines if a war’s going on. Do use submarines during peacetime and use them to kill zebra mussels.
Picture via wikimediacommons or wikipedia unless otherwise noted
Mann. Charles C. 1493: The World Columbus Made. New York: Vintage, 2013