One of the most unusual-looking mammals in the zoo is the babirusa, a wild pig native to the Indonesian archipelago. Male babirusa are known for their bizarre tusks, which, if they’re not worn down or broken in combat, will eventually grow long enough to pierce the animal’s skull.
Not Just Another Pretty Face
Although their large upper tusks appear threatening, the babirusa does not use them as weapons, but rather they serve as a shield for the animal’s eyes during fights. Instead, they use their dagger-like lower tusks to ward off rivals. Since their lower tusks are dull from wearing against the upper ones, the resourceful boar sharpens them by rubbing them against trees. When males fight, either over mates or territory, they stand side by side and push each other with their shoulders. Then, they face each other, rear up on their hind legs, and jab their heads upwards in order to gore each other with their lower tusks. Besides battling with each other, adult babirusa have few, if any, natural predators to defend against. The Los Angeles Zoo acquired a pair of babirusa from Europe in 1984. They were the first wild swine to be admitted into the United States in over 40 years due to a long-standing ban by the USDA on the importation of exotic swine. The now-lifted ban had originally been instated because of the potential threat of African swine fever, which can harm domestic livestock. The babirusa’s life span averages ten years; however, there is one recorded instance of a captive babirusa reaching the ripe old age of 24.
The babirusa population is extremely vulnerable and has been decimated by hunting and habitat destruction.
Babirusas live on the Sulawesi, Togian, and Baru islands in the Indonesian Archipelago. They can be found in moist, swampy forests and in the lush thickets of tropical rainforests. Surprisingly, they are gifted swimmers, preferring to live near bodies of water, and have been known to travel across wide rivers and seas to reach small islands.
Babirusas are omnivorous, but mostly prefer to dine on leaves, fruits, and berries. They use their strong hooves to dig for roots and search for insect larvae in rotting trees.
You won’t see these massive pigs on any farm! The male, also called a boar, stands up to two and a half feet tall from the shoulder and can weigh as much as 220 pounds. The female, or sow, is slightly smaller. They have slender snouts and thick, wrinkled gray-brown skin that is sparsely covered in bristly hair. Like many pigs, the male babirusa has canine teeth that continually grow and eventually point upwards into tusks. Their lower teeth grow up and out over the edge of the lip. At six months old, these teeth rotate 180 degrees and begin to grow up and into the top of the nasal rostrum. These curved teeth can reach a remarkable length of 17 inches, and, in unfortunate cases, can arch so severely that they eventually pierce the animal’s forehead. The female has smaller tusks or in some cases, none at all.