Last fall, the fate of Dallas' destructive, hyper-sexual feral hog population rested in the traps of just one man, Osvaldo Rojas, who runs a feral hog business called City Trapping. He'd been hired to capture hogs on some city property before, but September was when he got the big contract, a three-year, $284,000 deal to capture all of the feral hogs in Dallas city limits. This was necessary, officials explained at the time, because the population of feral hogs in North Texas was growing out of control.
At the time, Rojas gave Unfair Park vivid descriptions of the high-tech hog traps he planned to use but declined to say where he was going to put them. So, watch where you step.
But it turns out, as Rojas was going on a media blitz, giving excited Dallas reporters tours of his anti-hog arsenal, city officials changed their minds. It's now been seven months since Rojas was supposed to have started trapping all our hogs, but the city never made the deal official. Hogs are still running loose.
"There's been a bunch of people complaining to the city and the city's not doing anything about it," Rojas tells Unfair Park.
Local landowners and lower-level city employees figured out that there was a problem with the contract slowly, when feral hogs kept destroying stuff and making baby hogs, and no one seemed to be doing anything to stop them.
"We continue to incur significant damage to our Landfill Levee and really need to get these pest reduced in number," Ron Smith, the sanitation department assistant director, wrote in an email to his boss Kelly High in November. Another employee said there was an urgent need for a hog trapper on a golf course. The Park Department sent out a picture of a bunch of hogs gathered around a feeder by the Audubon Center.
In January, things apparently took a turn for the worse: "They are getting bad out there," Kelly High, sanitation services department director, wrote in an email to Trinity Watershed Management's Sarah Standifer.
A few weeks later, Trinity River Audubon Center Director Benjamin Jones sent a message to the city with the subject line: "3 sows/17 piglets." All those animals passed him on the entrance to his center, Jones' note explained.
"The hogs on the Trinity River Audubon center have become devastating," Audubon Center Executive Director Brian Trusty tells Unfair Park.
So why don't we have an official hog-trapper doing something about it? In a statement, Dallas city spokesman Shawn Williams briefly writes that the contract was never executed because the city of Dallas was concerned about "the safety of some techniques" that Rojas planned to use.
Yet Rojas says the city is still hiring him to capture some hogs on a city-owned golf course, though he won't say which one. It's just the rest of the city that he's not allowed to touch. "Why, I don't know, " he says over the phone, sounding a little annoyed. "They haven't told me yet."
The city's internal emails about hogs, which we obtained through an open records request, suggest that city officials first freaked out when they realized Rojas liked to carry firearms. In an email to the city, Rojas tried appease those concerns by writing that he would change his company policy to no longer allow the weapons. But the city didn't like that, either. "How does he intend to protect himself," attorney Meredith Ladd wrote in an email to the some of the Dallas employees charged with working out contracts. "We cannot have him on City property trapping hogs in a manner that is not safe for himself or others." She recommended that Rojas keep carrying a firearm but also pay extra in insurance.
Rojas says paying for the insurance wasn't a problem. "We went ahead and changed our rules and the way we do things, and no longer carry guns. Then they asked us why aren't you going to carry a gun now? ... There's no winning with these people," he says.
Then there was Rojas' Facebook page, which features a lot of hog photos and footage, some more gruesome than others. That appeared to become a problem in September, when Dallas' Kevin Acosta, a coordinator for the city's customer service department, warned council member Dwaine Caraway about a constituent who saw a feral hog in her yard. Caraway's assistant responded by sending Acosta a link to a video found on Rojas' Facebook profile. The video shows a guy being really mean to a big hog, and then shooting at it.
Just one problem: You can't actually see the face of the person doing the hog-abusing in the video. Acosta, for his part, was not impressed. "I looked at the video. I could not tell who the person was," he wrote in an email. (Here's a link.)
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Rojas acknowledges that the hog abuse video came from his Facebook page but denies that it's him. "I put it on there because that's what people are doing, and that's what not to do," he says.
Whatever actually halted the deal, that hasn't stopped hogs from reproducing. Trusty, from the Audubon Center, would have liked that contract to have gone into effect awhile ago. He says the prairies and much of the infrastructure around his facility are getting destroyed. When he asked the city what was up, he found out that his center is now responsible for capturing its own hogs.
If there's ever a more coordinated effort to capture all the hogs, like the original contract entailed, the city hasn't worked it out yet. "We are rethinking how we choose to approach this project moving forward," spokesman Williams tells Unfair Park via email. Hopefully, the city will start to rethink faster: experts say that sows give birth to their first littesr at the tender age of just 13 months old and continue with a rate of about 1.5 litters a year.
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.