Christine Rollins, 59, was found dead Sunday morning in the front yard of a Chambers County home belonging to an elderly couple who she cared for. Rollins bled to death after what appeared to be, and has now been confirmed, as a grisly feral hog attack.
"In my 35 years, I will tell you, it’s one of the worst things I have ever seen," said Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne at a Monday press conference.
Authorities believe a group of hogs attacked Rollins when she arrived for work before dawn on Sunday, a time when they are most active.
Hawthorne said detectives with his service immediately suspected feral pigs, but weren’t going to comment until the medical examiner made a determination. The caution was likely also tied to how unusual the occurrence was.
"Just what little research we have found there's less than six of these (that) have been reported in the nation over the many, many years of reporting these kind of deaths,” said Hawthorne.
The attack took place on 12 acres of rural pasture land near Anahuac, Texas, a town located an hour east of Houston on the banks of a lake sharing its name.
Dr. Selly Rivers conducted the autopsy and ruled it “exsanguination due to feral hog assault.”
Texas boasts more feral pigs than any other state, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with conservative estimates of 2.6 million.
“There are two types of landowners, those that have hog problems and those that are about to have hog problems,” said Bubba Ortiz, owner of Ortiz Game Management, which traps and removes feral hogs.
Feral pigs have caused millions of dollars in damage to agricultural and other private property every year in Texas, the southeastern U.S. and, each year spreading to new parts of the country. The animal is known for its adaptability, surviving in swamps, arid regions, and rolling hills. Approximately 43% of all the counties in the U.S. have feral pigs according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture which pegged the pigs' annual damages to $1.5 billion annually in a 2018 report.
This is however the first human death attributed to a feral hog attack in recent history. The circumstances of the attack are so rare, a person is far more likely to die in a car accident caused by the 200-plus-pound animals. In 2012, estimates were as high as $36 million in damages coming from feral hog car accidents.
“They tend to flee (when they see humans),” said Ortiz. “But you get a group of them and it can be a tricky situation. I’ve been involved in a couple standoffs."
Feral swine are described opportunistic eaters, feeding primarily on grasses, roots and tubers. They have destroyed whole fields of rice, corn, and other crops. But have also been known to feed on young livestock, deer, goats and sheep.
“A good indicator of feral swine predation is that the prey’s carcass will be skinned out with the rumen or stomach contents consumed,” said a 2004 University of Nebraska paper.
The tragic scene shocked Ortiz when he heard about it, but he warned about the intense power of the animals.
“They break metal, they bust welds, and this is all with their face,” Ortiz said. “I’ve had some hogs clear 5-foot fences. And we’re not talking about little pigs, we’re talking about 200-250 pound animals.”
Interactions between humans and feral hogs have grown over the years according to Texas Parks and Wildlife, as the invasive species spread to urban areas and former farmland is developed for homes. The populations increase largely unabated from a species that can give birth to litters more than once in a calendar year.
Chambers county sheriffs have placed a trap at on the property where Rollins died, and they are checking it twice a day. Despite being rural, the properties are too populated to safely hunt the hogs.
“The chance of actually capturing these same hogs could be rare,” said Sheriff Hawthorne in an interview, noting feral hogs are known roamers.
The sheriff’s office is warning people to be aware of wild animals in the area.