By RANDALL DICKERSON
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - How many wildlife agents does it take to catch a wild hog? Only one - under a new remote system used by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Richard Kirk, an agency program manager, said the new system alerts an on-call agent when there is movement under the trap. Cameras are set up with the trap and the agent can watch feral hogs by video, springing the trap by pushing a button on a computer or smartphone from miles away.
Agents set up a corral that is 35 feet in diameter and bait it with corn. When hogs wander close and set off a motion detector focused on the gate, an agent gets a text message. Then they can watch the video and drop the trap.
Kirk said the new technology can save a lot of staff time. Previously, four agents would study the feeding patterns of a group of feral hogs, set up the trap and then return early on the day they hoped to capture them. Now, they study the feeding patterns, place the trap and wait for a text message.
"This system allows one person at a computer at 2 a.m. to make the capture, versus four people spending three to four hours out there," Kirk said.
The system has been used one time so far in Sumner County.
"We're pretty happy with it," Kirk said. "I anticipate using more of them."
Wild hogs have been in East Tennessee and on the Cumberland Plateau for decades. They root for food, destroying crops, tearing up fences and damaging wildlife habitat. The wildlife agency has made it a priority to stop their spread into Middle Tennessee and West Tennessee while continuing to trap them in the eastern part of the state.
Hogs will show up miles from the closest known previous location. The agency tries to capture and destroy them when a group is found. Kirk said he has seen as many as 30 trapped at one time.
Verizon spokesman Michael Swearingen said the video is in high definition and the solar-powered system was built by IC Realtime, which is based in Pompano Beach, Fla.
"The Verizon network is the only one that can currently transmit the high definition video in these remote areas," Swearingen said.
The agency is working with the vendor and hopes future generations of the program will be able to identify animals as hogs, based on their size and the way they move.
Kirk said another advantage of using the remote system is to make sure all of the hogs are in the trap before it's sprung.
He said hogs are intelligent animals and using video to make certain they're in the trap is important.
"The reason we like to drop the gate is to get all of them," he said. "If any escape, you've just educated them."