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A catch-up with the three (Visayan) pigs

Posted by Elizabeth Bacher, Communications

Visayan warty pigs are a critically endangered species native to several islands in the Philippines. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren

Let’s check in with some of our favorites in the Trail of Vines—the Visayan warty pigs. There have been some changes afoot for our resident rooters as well as for their species in the wild.

You may remember we spotlighted our three pigs back in 2018. They are Guapa (AKA Kulay) who will be 20 years old in April and her two daughters Bulak (AKA Scallops) and Magdula (AKA French Fry) who are both 13. Why do these pigs have nicknames? Well—pigs as special as these three have both formal as well as affectionate nicknames from their adoring animal keepers! All three of them came to Woodland Park Zoo together from Los Angeles Zoo in 2012 and each of their formal names reflects the Philippines origin of their species.

Who doesn't love a good snack! Nom nom! Photo: Lindsay Wesselmann/Woodland Park Zoo

In the wild, Visayan warty pigs used to roam widely over six different islands in the Philippines, but they’ve lost more than 95% of that habitat due to logging and agriculture. Populations have also dwindled due to hunting and these pigs often come into conflict with farmers as crop-raiding pests. If that wasn’t enough, they are also now threatened by a deadly type of swine virus that began on the African continent and has now spread to Asia, killing tens of millions of domestic and wild boar and pig species. (Scientists say this virus—which is different than swine flu—does not pose a risk to human health.) As a result, local communities in Southeast Asia in addition to scientists and conservation institutions from all over the world are trying to save Visayan warty pigs from extinction.

Bulak (AKA Scallops) and Magdula (AKA French Fry) are both 13 years old. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

There are only a handful of conservation zoos lucky enough to care for Visayan warty pigs and Woodland Park Zoo is one of them. For the first few years after Guapa, Bulak and Magdula moved here, they all lived together in their broadleaf forest exhibit in our Tropical Asia area. They’re all still there, but when you visit you might only see two of them out in the front of the habitat—sisters Bulak and Magdula. The reason? Their mom, Guapa, officially “retired” a few years ago—which is another way of saying that the social structure of this group changed, which also happens in the wild. Now, Guapa can still see, hear and smell her daughters, but she can be on her own whenever she chooses, and she gets to live her best piggy life in a separate yard behind the main habitat. Sometimes she rotates out into the main yard—in which case her daughters will be in the other one—but mostly she just loves the leisure life of being pampered by her doting animal keepers with lots of naps, snacks, and scratches (from through the fence) behind the scenes!

Guapa (AKA Kulay) enjoys being pampered with lots of naps and snacks! Photo: Animal keeper, Wendy/Woodland Park Zoo

Now that mom is retired, Bulak and Magdula can rule the roost. These social sisters may be twins but their personalities are quite different. Magdula tends to be the more dominant of the two but is also the most cautious and will take her time to investigate any new things she encounters. Bulak, on the other hand, is pretty chill—a trait she might have gotten from her mother. And she is also the most vocal, not hesitating to loudly “make her needs known” when it comes to letting her keepers know when she’s ready to eat or claiming a favorite sleeping spot in her habitat. Speaking of spots, at naptime (which could be any time) you may see both girls lying in the sunny patches of their yard. If you can’t see them, take a closer look. They might be burrowed in their hay beds—another favorite napping spot.

Photo: Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo

As for mealtimes, all three of our pigs enjoy a regular menu that includes yams, carrots, romaine, alfalfa pellets and spinach. They even enjoy an occasional snack of quail or mice! Surprised? All pigs, including ours, are omnivores. That means they will eat nearly anything they can dig up, including both plant and animal matter.

That snoot! Photo: Lindsay Wesselmann/Woodland Park Zoo

Bulak, Magdula and Guapa all love to participate in training sessions with their keepers. These sessions are completely voluntary, using positive reinforcement, and the training allows them to take part in their own health care. For example, they will lie down for nail trims (which are done with a dremel) and are even trained to voluntarily participate in some of their medical exams. Of course, training is always rewarded with special treats—and one of their favorites is blueberry Cheerios! Nom nom!

Did you know:
  • The median life expectancy of a wild Visayan warty pig can range from 10 to 15 years—but reaching 20 or beyond is not uncommon in human care
  • Pigs do not sweat and therefore need to cool off in mud wallows and water
  • Males of this and many wild pig, hog and boar species grow sharp tusks as they mature, which are actually modified canine teeth
  • Wild pigs all have straight tails; the curly ones are a domestic trait