With big tusks, a coarse grizzled coat, and massive fleshy protrusions on the sides of their faces, the Javan warty pig (Sus verrucosus) is probably deserving of the “world’s ugliest pig” title. But just because the porcine critter is not blessed in the looks department does not mean that the precipitously endangered species should be left to go extinct.
In fact, so rare are the pigs – native to a handful of Indonesian islands – that researchers have only just recorded the first-ever video footage of the animals in the wild.
“Javan warty pigs are of a similar body size to European wild boar but are a bit more slender and have longer heads,” says Dr Johanna Rode-Margono, who led the expedition by Chester Zoo to locate the pigs, in a statement. “Males have three pairs of enormous warts on their faces. It is these characteristics that have led to them being affectionately labelled as ‘the world’s ugliest pig’ but, certainly to us and our researchers, they are rather beautiful and impressive.”
The Javan pig is thought to be one of the rarest pigs in the world, and over the past few decades have been in serious decline. Over the past 18 years, their populations have halved, and while the IUCN class the pigs as “endangered”, we don’t have a good estimate of their numbers in the wild. Of 32 populations of the animals that were known to exist in 1982, at least 17 are now extinct or support so few pigs that recovery is not thought possible.
Endemic to Indonesia, they were once found ranging across the islands of Java, Bawean, and Madura, although the population on Madura has already been hunted to extinction. The main threat to them is from deforestation, as loggers raid their preferred habitat of teak forests for the highly desirable wood, in addition to hunting for sport and the pigs plundering local farms.
The team of researchers focused on regions where the pigs might still survive on Java and set up cameras in seven locations between June 2016 and May 2017. Out of the places sampled, the cameras only recorded the animals in four of the sites, suggesting that it is highly likely the pigs are already extinct in the three others.
The clips of the pigs that have been released come from two of the sites where they are still clinging on. In fact, due to the rapid rate at which their populations are decreasing, very little is known about the pigs’ behavior.