EAST COUNTY — At 6 a.m., Jim Lontz opens the sliding-glass door of his River Club home and steps into the dark, carrying a powerful LED flashlight meant to blind intruders.
He’s there to bodyguard his wife, Brigitte, also armed with a strobe-shooting flashlight, and dog, Princess Grace, who is out for a walk, from wild hogs lurking on the lush grounds of their deed-restricted community.
Ordinarily, Brigitte Lontz would be walking Princess Grace, a retired show dog, alone. She would also be unarmed.
But these are not ordinary times in River Club. Residents have reported seeing wild hogs, including, at the minimum, one boar (male), two sows (female) and eight to 10 piglets.
These feral hogs, a species of the pig that has been artificially introduced to North America, have been terrorizing backyards, rooting out grass and irrigation lines in search of food.
“The light probably wouldn’t do anything to the hog,” says Lontz, a 79-year-old retired radio news anchor who leads the River Club Homeowners Association Board of Directors. “But it’s better than being unarmed. I’m not going to bring my gun out there.”
Lontz, an avid tennis player with a booming voice that belies his age, adds: “I’m hoping my swiftness on the tennis court won’t fail me if I do encounter a hog.”
Last week, Sept. 12, Lontz sent out an email blast to residents alerting them to the presence of the animals and warned people to be alert.
In the email, Lontz told residents to closely watch their pets and children.
Lontz said he has heard from more than 10 residents, most living on Cherry Hills Avenue Circle, who have spotted the wild hogs, usually at night.
Lontz also learned of reports of sightings at River Club Golf Course, which is not governed by the homeowners association.
Based on hours of research, Lontz, a former journalist, says wild hogs carry 45 different diseases, including 37 parasites.
The boars have sharp tusks and continuously growing teeth.
The largest subspecies weighs between 150 and 400 pounds.
“They are very interesting animals,” Lontz said. “And they have no fear of humans.”
Lontz is in contact with a trapper to remove the hogs, however, he cannot act until the homeowners association votes on any action at its next formal meeting Thursday.
Lontz, who also is a former president of the HOA, says River Club had a problem with feral hogs years ago.
The recent calls started two to three weeks ago, with people reporting to Lontz about the nuisances in their yard.
Lontz referred the residents to Animal Control.
“But the problem isn’t that simple,” Lontz said. “Creatures like this can do a whole lot of harm, I learned.”
The problem is also not limited to River Club. Wild hogs have also scoured Lakewood Ranch for food.
“We have been dealing with hogs for as long as I can remember, off and on for eight years,” said Ryan Heise, Lakewood Ranch Town Hall operations director, in an email. “The problem has temporarily gone away for us. It’s typically pretty cyclical. Perhaps they ate all of the food source and moved elsewhere.”
Residents called Juan Trevino, a hog trapper from Myakka City, to Lakewood Ranch Country Club in March.
There, he caught eight hogs, and sold them to be slaughtered.
Trevino says River Club has not contacted him about its problem.
He says wild hogs usually hide in swamps, but recent rains have left them under water.
So, the hogs leave their homes to look for food on drier land, digging up grass to find worms and grubs.
“It’s easy picking,” said Trevino, who has been around hog trapping his whole life.
They also dig under oak trees for acorns, Trevino said.
Trevino recommends people spray their lawns with pesticides to kill the grubs and worms.
He says that wild hogs can be dangerous, but generally avoid humans.
A boar charged Trevino once. Another boar charged his grandfather, swung its head, and took with it his middle finger, ring finger and pinky.
“If the females feel their young ones are threatened, they will take on anything,” Trevino said. “They put their head down and let out a grunt.”
Lontz hopes to take care of the hogs before anything bad happens.
“They might be out there right now,” Lontz says, motioning to his backyard, flashlight near. “The trapper will get them out of here. They have to go.”
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected]