In many ways, pigs are just like us – they’re highly-intelligent, social animals who, just occasionally, enjoy rolling around in a big muddy puddle.
When people talk about pigs, they’re usually referring to the fat, pink sausage ingredient – a normal pig, in other words; one that you might see on a visit to the farm. While this is undoubtedly the most common type of pig (there are roughly one billion of them), around the world pigs come in many different shapes and sizes. Some types of pig are hairy, some types of pig are small; some types of pig aren’t even really types of pig at all.
Let’s have a look at some pigs from around the world:
Warthogs | Africa
Warthogs are often called ugly. This is rather unkind but, even among pigs, it’s fair to say that warthogs are one of the less attractive species. Their name (and reputation) comes from four wart-like blobs on their faces – two on either side, though, so at least they’re symmetrical.
If you ever meet a warthog, and are worried about catching warts yourself, there’s no need to fear. The lumps on their faces aren’t actually warts; they’re fat deposits and work as protection when two boars are fighting (although I’m not sure what protection they’d be against the warthog’s massive tusks.)
One of the most famous warthogs (possibly the only famous warthog) is Pumbaa from the Lion King. In the film, Pumbaa is friends with a meerkat, which is clearly ridiculous – warthogs don’t make friends with meerkats, they make friends with mongooses. The mongooses (no, not mongeese) will spend time grooming a warthog, cleaning its fur and removing ticks – an arrangement the warthog community seems more than happy with.
Pot-bellied pigs | Vietnam
They don’t look like they’d ever be fashionable, but pot-bellied pigs were once a must-have pet; even George Clooney owned one. Unfortunately, most people didn’t realise that, even if they bought a genuine pot-bellied pig, it could still grow to over 100kg and be impossible to look after in their home. As a result of this, there are now shelters dedicated to pigs who have been given up by their owners (a similar thing happened when there was a craze for keeping turtles as pets – but at least when people got bored of them they could just be flushed down the toilet.)
Pot-bellied pigs live in social groups and this need to bond means that, if you can cope with their size, they can make good pets. They’re also very clever – almost as clever as a dolphin! – and while this doesn’t mean they won’t eat your furniture, it at least means they’ll understand why they’re doing it.
If you want a pig as a pet, but think a massive, pot-bellied porker might be too much, there are smaller pigs available…
Pygmy hog | India
This little piggy is the world’s smallest – it reaches a height of just 30cm and weighs up to 11kg.
The pygmy hog (not pygmy pig, for some reason) used to be quite common, but is now seriously endangered. It lives in just one state of India, and there are thought to be only 150 of the mini oinkers left.
Pygmy hogs build nests for themselves; digging a hole and lining it with grass and leaves. Imagine going bird-watching and finding a small nest, but then looking inside and realising that it was full of pigs – wouldn’t that be weird?
Bornean bearded pig | Borneo
In the rainforests of Southeast Asia lives the bornean bearded pig. It’s just like any other pig, really, but with silly facial hair.
Guinea pigs | South America
Originating in South America, guinea pigs are now popular around the world; whether that be as a children’s pet, a food source or a scientific research tool.
Although they have close relatives living in the wild, guinea pigs as we know them were bred in captivity by Andean tribes. These tribes didn’t keep their guinea pigs in a wooden hutch with a rabbit, though; they grew them specifically as a source of food. The chubby little rodents have been eaten as a ceremonial dish for thousands of years but, in recent times, the meat has become more widely available. Guinea pigs are eaten in large numbers in Peru, in parts of Africa and in posh restaurants (where they think it’s amusing to put unusual animals on the menu.)
Guinea pigs have been completely misnamed. Obviously, they’re not really pigs – they haven’t got a tail, let alone a curly one – and they don’t even come from Guinea. There is a rare breed of pig called the guinea hog but, annoyingly, that doesn’t come from Guinea either.
Here’s a real type of pig that does live in Guinea…
Red river hog | Africa
The red river hog (or Potamochoerus porcus, if you insist) is a type of wild pig found in the forests around Guinea and the Congo River. It has a black and white face, but a red body and long tufty ears – it’s pretty fancy, as pigs go.
Strangely, in the wild, the red river hog is nocturnal. It hides in the rainforest during the day, only coming out to feed at night. I guess the hogs must know what they’re doing but, if I was a pig that looked as good as them, I’d be out all day showing myself off.
Wild boar | Europe/Asia
Wild boar are the granddaddies of pigs – every chop we eat today comes from one of their relatives. They have a big head, short legs, and bristles so thick that they used to be used in toothbrushes.
In England, wild boar became extinct in the 13th century but, in the late 20th century, the pigs began escaping from specialist farms and populations have now re-established themselves around the country. There are currently so many wild boar living in England that some counties have tried reducing their numbers – in 2012, Gloucestershire culled 100 of them in the Forest of Dean, although over 20% of these were killed in accidental traffic accidents.