Using the cover of darkness, feral pigs have learned to outsmart even the most seasoned hunters as they set about on their nightly terrors, rooting up crops and suburban gardens, harassing native wildlife and turning watering holes into pigsties.

The invasive porkers have made themselves at home across more than three-quarters of the United States and are responsible for an estimated $1.5 billion in damages each year. Most worrisome is their ability to learn from each encounter with a frustrated human.

Ask anyone who has had a run-in with feral pigs. The conversation always circles back to intelligence.

“They're much brighter than I am,” says Ray Powell, a veterinarian and New Mexico's land commissioner. “If they had the dexterity, they'd be driving vehicles around. I mean these guys are really smart.”

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Feral pigs have already taken over Texas and are expanding their numbers in other states. The Missouri Department of Conservation said Monday it would hold an aerial hunt in southeast Missouri to get rid of feral hogs.

Federal and state land managers think they have a chance to tip the balance in New Mexico. They're willing to bet $1 million in federal funds on a year-long pilot project aimed at eradicating the pigs and using what they learn here to keep them from gaining a foothold elsewhere.

It marks the first time the U.S. Department of Agriculture has teamed up with a state to develop a comprehensive plan for getting rid of the pigs.

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