This Little Piggy…

When most people hear the word “pig,” they think only of the pink barnyard variety. But there are 16 pig and hog species in the world, three of which are represented at the Los Angeles Zoo. (The Zoo also houses peccaries, which are a part of a closely related family.)

All pigs have a distinguishing snout with a disk of cartilage at the tip that they use to root in the ground for food. They eat leaves, roots, fruit, and fungi, as well as earthworms and eggs. Pigs have four toes on each foot, but they use just two toes on each foot for walking. These toes are tipped by hooves made of the protein keratin, much like human fingernails. Beyond those similarities, pigs and hogs show several interesting differences.

For National Pig Day, the L.A. Zoo introduces its spirited Suidae family.

Young babirusa male (Photo by Jamie Pham)

Young babirusa male (Photo by Jamie Pham)

Babirusa (Babyrousa babyrussa celebensis)

Native to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, this wild pig is unlike most members of the Suidae (pig and hog) family because it is almost hairless. The babirusa looks a lot like a domestic pig that has rolled in coal and chalk dust, except that it has a very long snout.

Male babirusa have tusks that grow out of the top of their snout, curving up and back toward their forehead. These tusks are actually canine teeth. When the males are born, the teeth point downward, and as they reach about six months of age, the canine teeth turn and point upward. From then on, the teeth grow through the top of the animal’s snout. Surprisingly, the piglets show no sign of discomfort when their teeth turn over, or even when they grow through the skin on the snout. Females have smaller tusks or, in some cases, none at all.
Male babirusa are also fairly mellow, but females can be intense, according to Curator of Mammals Jeff Holland. “Those are the ones you have to watch out for,” he says.

Red river hog piglet (Photo by Jamie Pham)

Red river hog piglet (Photo by Jamie Pham)

Red River Hog (Potamochoerus porcus)

Perhaps the most attractive of the Zoo’s pigs, red river hogs have long, floppy ears and are gingery red with a white stripe running down the center of their back and across the snout. The piglets’ ears are tipped with long, thin white tufts that flop up and down when they run.

The adults are founder animals, which means they are unrelated to any other captive animals. Red river hogs come from the rain forests of Guinea in West Africa, where they are threatened by logging, which destroys the animals’ habitat. In addition, roads give access to hunters who sell the hogs as bushmeat.

Visayan warty pig group (Photo by Jamie Pham)

Visayan warty pig group (Photo by Jamie Pham)

Visayan Warty Pig (Sus cebifrons)

Endemic to a few islands in the Philippines, Visayan warty pigs are critically endangered. These pigs are extinct in as much as 98 percent of their former range; their habitat has been decimated by logging and agriculture. The few animals that remain are hunted, illegally. Many have interbred with domestic pigs, decreasing the number of purebred warty pigs. Farmers in the Philippines consider the pigs to be pests, particularly because they root through the dirt for food, sometimes ruining crops.

The Visayan warty pig’s unusual display of male power is a mane or hair that grows from the forehead down the back of the neck. It looks a lot like a Mohawk haircut that flops forward in the front like a pompadour. Visayan warty pigs are the only pigs that put on such a mane. These wild pigs are very social animals. Once they learn to trust their keepers, they will lie down and let the keepers examine them and clean their hooves.
Originally appeared in Zoo View (Spring 2007), written by Katherine Gould.