Warty Pig Party!

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A warty pig mother keeps busy with her piglets.

A warty pig mother keeps busy with her piglets.

If you have been though the San Diego Zoo’s Panda Canyon recently, you have probably seen our adorable Visayan warty pig family rolling in mud wallows or taking a nap in a big, fluffy hay bed. No, those aren’t warthogs you are looking at—these are one of the most critically endangered pigs in the world!

Visayan warty pigs used to be found on 6 of the Visayan Islands of the Philippines, but due to the loss of about 95 percent of their habitat, they can only be found on 3 of the islands: the western mountains of Panay, isolated areas of forest on Negros, and possibly a small population on Masbate. In 1992, the San Diego Zoo partnered with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the Philippines to create the Visayan Warty Pig Conservation Programme to try to save this species from extinction. The pigs we house here at the Zoo are an important part of these conservation efforts.

Our sounder, or pig family, is made up of four members. First is the male, Spartacus (as he was named at his previous institution), the largest in the exhibit. He has more prominent “warts” on his face, and his tusks are more apparent. Spartacus is still a pretty young guy, so those warts and tusks will get bigger as he gets older. He is also starting to sport a pretty impressive hairdo. Male Visayan warty pigs seasonally grow large manes that start at the top of their head and travel partially down their back and grow up to 9 inches (23 centimeters) long! The mama of the group is Kurit (the name that accompanied her). She is very valuable to the collection in the US because she is what we call a founder: she came from the Philippines, and her genes were not represented in the North American population. She is also the mom to the two piglets running around the exhibit. Alibangbang and Hinigugma (meaning butterfly and sweetheart, respectively, in Visayan) were born in our shipping pens area on December 6, 2012, and they have quickly become two of my absolute favorite charges.

One neat fact about pigs is that their gestation period is three months, three weeks, and three days. That’s easy to remember, right? Before she lived with Spartacus, we introduced Kurit to another male, based on the warty pig Species Survival Plan coordinator’s recommendation to improve the genetic diversity in the North American population. The introduction was a success, so all we had to do was wait and count, which, truth be told, was a lot harder than it sounds for an impatient keeper!

About a week before she gave birth, we started seeing Kurit doing a nesting behavior. We had given her several places in her enclosure where she could go to feel safe. She chose one den in particular and started moving all the hay we could give her to this den. It was awfully cute to watch her taking mouthfuls of hay and arranging them just perfectly in her den, even if the hay trails left behind weren’t as much fun to clean up. Then about mid-morning on December 6, 2012, we saw that Kurit had two very small, wriggling bodies with her in the house. We couldn’t have been more excited! Who doesn’t love a piglet? And we had two!

Over the days we watched as Kurit took great care of her little ones, keeping the other pigs, and excited keepers, away from her precious little ones. We brought food to her so she wouldn’t have to leave them unattended to eat, but she always let us know if we were getting too close! After the piglets were a few months old, we decided it was time to do their checkup and to find out if they were male or female. The vet techs gave our little girls a clean bill of health! A few months after that, we moved Mom and piglets to their current exhibit and introduced them to Spartacus.

They have been doing very well in their new-ish home, and it has been a real joy and privilege to watch these girls grow into beautiful young lady pigs. In fact, the weekend of their birthday, beginning with the actual day, December 6, we will be celebrating their one-year milestone with a special cake, special enrichment items, and treats for the whole family! So if you find yourself at the Zoo this weekend, make a special trip to visit the girls and wish them a happy birthday!

Ashley Roberts is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Catering to Animals in the “Back 40.”