With three pairs of enormous warts running down their faces, the male Javan warty pig has been dubbed the "world’s ugliest pig." But that doesn’t mean these endangered critters don’t deserve protection, too.
Conservationists have long been on the hunt to document and protect the beasts—and a research group in Indonesia finally captured rare footage of the creatures in the wild, Victoria Gill reports for the BBC. The latest video joins only a scant collection of existing documentation of wild warty pigs.
Javan warty pigs are native to the Indonesian islands and were listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List in 1996. They have quite striking appearance: they are overall darkly colored, covered with sparse coat of stiff, ochre brown to black hair. A longer mane trails from the nape of their necks along their spines down to powerful rumps. The males have three pairs of swollen bumps, or "warts," from which the pigs get their names—one set under their eyes, another below the ears and a final pair that only emerges in adulthood from tufts of hair along the angle of their jaws.
These eccentric-looking beasts are in trouble. Deforestation from agriculture and urbanization has fractured their habitat, resulting in dwindling population numbers. Hunting has also posed a problem. The pigs are ecologically useful in maintaining soil health, the BBC's Gill reports. But when the creatures raid crops, the pigs are often killed.
"Hunting for sport is also a problem," Rode-Margono tells the BBC, "and the species may be hybridizing with European wild boar." This cross-breeding may help individual pigs survive, but is speeding the pigs’ along a path to extinction. It’s estimated that since 1982 populations have declined by as much as 50 percent, according to a press release.
In April 2016, an international research team used camera traps to estimate the piggy populations of a subspecies of the Javan warty pigs, the Bawean warty pigs, finding less than 250 adult Javan warty pigs still live in the wild of the island of Bawean in Indonesia. And researchers believe the pig is already extinct on the Indonesian island of Madura.
To further document the pigs, a team led by Johanna Rode-Margono of Chester Zoo set out seven camera traps between June and May of 2017 on the Indonesian island of Java. By the end of the study period, they’d spotted the pigs at only four locales, leading the researchers to fear that the creatures had already gone regionally extinct at some locations.
Even so, as Gill reports, researchers were "thrilled" to have spotted the creatures at all. It was thought that most of the Javan populations—if not all—had already become extinct. The researchers hope that by better understanding the creatures’ population size and extent the better they can protect them.
Although not currently protected by Indonesia law, warty pigs are the target of a captive breeding program hoping to preserve the species. Although captive breeding has long-term issues, it can help stave off extinction.