Woodland Park Zoo welcomes two new species of pigs in 2012: the warthog, familiar to anyone who’s ever watched a nature documentary about the East African savanna and its wildlife, and the Visayan warty pig, familiar to far fewer people though well known to those who share its island home in the Philippines.
The Visayan warty pig lives in forests. It is native to six Philippine islands but has gone extinct on four of them due primarily to hunting, habitat loss caused by slash-and-burn farming, and interbreeding with domestic swine.
Little is known about the warty pig’s behavior, but it appears to live in small groups of four to five pigs, though larger groups have been observed. Zookeepers who care for the pigs routinely describe them as clever and playful animals.
The boar’s shaggy, punk-rock mane is the creature feature that grabs the attention of people who wouldn’t otherwise pay much attention to a pig. A boar grows his spiky ‘do prior to breeding season. His “Mohawk” may serve to make him appear larger and more menacing to other males and perhaps more attractive to sows; it may also serve as armor when fighting, just as the wart-like bumps on his face protect against opponents’ slashing tusks. Sows give birth to three or four piglets.
Historically, the Visayan warty pig hasn’t been regarded fondly by locals, because it is known to feed on farmers’ crops. Ecologically, however, it serves an important role as a distributor of seeds of forest trees. Indeed, conservation of this native species of swine and its habitat will simultaneously protect other forest species in a land where the vast majority of forest cover has been logged or cleared.
The warty pig wasn’t officially recognized as a separate species of swine until 1997. Studies on the genetics and origins of native Philippine species reveal that the islands boast the second-largest number of endemic swine species (Indonesia is the only place with more).
Captive Visayan warty pigs are managed by a Species Survival Plan (SSP) run by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). An SSP seeks to maintain both the numbers and genetic diversity of a captive species by determining which individuals should breed and arranging for the relocation of animals, if necessary.
Currently, Woodland Park Zoo joins just a handful of zoos that are home to the Visayan warty hog. Other North American zoos include the San Diego Zoo, the Los Angeles Zoo, the Oregon Zoo, and the St. Louis Zoo. Look for Woodland Park Zoo’s warty hogs in the Tropical Asia exhibit near the elephant’s pool.