As visitors stroll leisurely through the Wortham World of Primates, they are often startled by the sudden appearance of an exotic looking babirusa pig smack-dab in the middle of the facility.
These gravely endangered swine have been a part of the primate section for some years now, and have been thriving surrounded by monkeys and apes. The pair has produced one offspring (who has grown up and been shipped off to the San Antonio Zoo already) and have been working on more babies lately.
So, why have babirusa here? We like to think that it helps to illustrate the concept of an ecosystem to our guests, and shows some of the diversity of mammalian life in the rain forests of the world. Just as mixed species exhibits are more common, we hope that mixing our metaphors in the world of primates will provide those same messages. Wild pigs are found in nearly every forested area of the world, and these uncommonly strange looking creatures are found only on the tiny islands of Sulawesi (formerly the Celebes Islands). They are hunted for bushmeat and their rainforests are disappearing due to agriculture, logging and human overpopulation. They are considered to be one of the world’s most endangered species of pig.
While the four-tusked male is the most impressive of the pair, our focus lately has been on the female.
The pair lives in adjoining yards and do not get together unless she is in estrous, as in the wild they live solitary lives (except for mothers with young.) In mid-July, Remley came into estrous and they were allowed together for several days in a row, and they bred enthusiastically and repeatedly, as if they knew that they needed to represent their DNA in the genetic pig pool. About 2 months later, we started to do weekly ultrasound tests on her to check for pregnancy, a procedure that can be done as she leans against her fence as the vet uses a portable ultrasound probe on her abdomen. All pigs love to have belly rubs, and for Remley, having an abdominal ultrasound is just like having an exceptionally professional massage.
We will continue to do ultrasound exams weekly until we get an indication of pregnancy… or not… and will keep our fingers crossed for piglets!
What do you think of these animals? Have you ever stopped by to visit the babirusa when you’ve been at the Zoo? Tell us in the comment section below!
Written by Lynn Killam, Primate Supervisor