New Animals: Pigs!

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A male babirusa sports unusual tusks.

Changes abound around the San Diego Zoo, and some new animals have been added to my responsibilities. Six Visayan warty pigs, two babirusas, and a lowland anoa can now be found just downhill from the giant pandas.

Anoas are also known as dwarf buffalo, and that’s just what they look like! Peanut is a 14-year-old female. Sharing her exhibit are two babirusas, which are very unusual creatures. They are a species a pig from the islands of Indonesia and look kind of like the prototype for the modern pig. Let me share some fun info about them:

Babirusas have a hairless look (like a pink farm pig) to their grayish brown skin and slender snouts. But what’s the most notable thing about this species? The tusks. This particular pair is still young, but as they grow, so will their massive tusks, which can reach 15 inches (38 centimeters) in length. They have two pairs of tusks. The bottom tusks grow from the lower jaw and fit neatly around the snout. But what’s most amazing of all, the top tusks are their top teeth that actually grow UP instead of down, piercing through the skin of their nose! The tusks are relatively brittle and aren’t generally used for sparring; instead, male babirusas “box” for dominance. The large tusks are possibly a result of “runaway selection.” Females began choosing males with large tusks. As a result, tusk size kept increasing, so much so that there are reported cases of the upper tusks (which start to curl backward) actually growing until they pierce the skull and kill the individual!

This Visayan warty pig sports quite the toupee!

In the next exhibit over are the Visayan warty pigs, a breed of wild pig endemic to specific islands of the Philippines. These pigs have an unforgettable black mane and a flamboyant mop of black hair on their head. It looks almost like they are wearing a toupee! All three of these wonderful species are under pressure from habitat encroachment, aggressive logging, and poaching, but the Visayan warty pigs are the most critically endangered.

I encourage you to come to the San Diego zoo and take advantage of seeing these incredible animals in person.

Nate Schierman is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, First Birthday for Hippo.