Cute animals get all of the breaks. They become pets, rarely get eaten by humans and star in cartoons and movies. Ugly animals are feared, only star in horror movies and are often hunted or eaten into distinction. That was feared to be the case of the aptly named Javan warty pig – a skinny-legged, stringy-haired, warty-faced wild pig that once roamed the Indonesian islands of Java, Bawean and Madura, but was declared extinct on Madura and feared extinct on the others. That fear was alleviated recently when a Javan warty pig was photographed for the first time by a motion-activated camera trap. Will the discovery cause humans to learn to love them – warts and all?
“For me, they are not ugly – they are beautiful.”
Dr. Johanna Rode-Margono, the Field Programme Coordinator, South East Asia , for the Chester Zoo in Cheshire, England, told the BBC that she’s never not loved the Javan warty pig. Leading the first extensive species study of Java since 2004, she and her colleagues feared they would not see any Sus verrucosus, which was declared “endangered” in 1996 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Javan warty pigs have always been hard to find. According to www.ultimateungulate.com — “Your Guide to the World’s Hoofed Mammals” (Did you know that ungulates come in two flavors? Odd-toed ungulates such as horses and rhinos, and even-toed ungulates such as pigs, cattle, giraffes and hippos.) – Javan warty pigs are solitary and nocturnal and became scattered among tiny fragments of teak forests as development deforested their areas. (More photos here.) They’re also hard to distinguish from the Eurasian wild pig (Sus scrofa), an invasive species.
The best way to identify Javan warty pigs is, not surprisingly, by their three pairs of facial warts or swellings located beneath their eyes, below the ears, and at the angle of the jaw. Only the male warty pigs develop the warts, so females and young animals are easily confused with the Eurasian wild pigs. In fact, that may be a problem for male Eurasian wild pigs as interbreeding is common and contributes to the possible extinction of genetically pure Javan warty pigs. The distinction doesn’t seem to bother hunters, farmers and homeowners who all see both species as pests to be exterminated.
Fortunately, more than one Javan warty pig was found – they were photographed in three of the seven areas being studied – and a local wildlife center has set up a captive breeding program. (Cam photos here.)
Why should we care about a skinny, ugly pig? Dr. Rode-Margono says it best:
“And everything in our ecosystem is connected – every tree, every plant, every animal. They depend on each other. If something breaks away, something else [could] break away, and that’s a chain reaction where we can’t foresee what will happen.”
What Javan warty pigs need is a cartoon movie featuring the voice of Ellen DeGeneres.