| Little Known Asian Animals With a Promising Economic Future |
|Part IlI : Pig and Piglike Species|
Although it apparently has never been domesticated, the bearded pig (Sus barbatus) has a long history as an important resource in Southeast Asia. Human remains from the Niah Caves in Sarawak are accompanied by large numbers of its bones and teeth, indicating that 40,000 years ago it was the most commonly eaten large animal. Today in Sarawak and some other areas the bearded pig is still probably the most sought after source of wild meat.
Appearance and Size
Bearded pigs are large. Boars measure 1-1.6 m in length (crown to rump), up to 1 m in height, and may weigh as much as 150 kg. Sows are smaller. Adult males have small facial warts (infraocular and preocular) and a bushy tuft of hair on the cheek. Both sexes vary in color from pale red-brown to yellow-brown or black. They have elongated skulls with longer, more flexible snouts than the common pig.
Five subspecies are recognized. They range through the Philippines (Balabac, Palawan and offshore islands, Calamianes, Luzon, Mainit, Mindanao, Jolo, Mindoro, and Cebu) to Borneo, Bangka, Sumatra, the Riau Archipelago, and the Malay Peninsula.
The Borneo subspecies (Sus barbatus barbatus) is still abundant in some parts of Sabah, Sarawak (including several wildlife reserves), and
Kalimantan. It remains an important food resource for some hill tribes, although with the spread of Islam, attitudes toward pork are changing in some areas. The Malayan subspecies (Sus barbatus of) is now rare in the Malay Peninsula. It is also becoming rare in Sumatra as the lowland forests are logged and broken up by commercial interests and as the human population expands. The status of the three Philippine subspecies is currently unknown.
Habitat and Environment
The bearded pig is most commonly found in both primary and secondary evergreen forests. However, it seems to have wide adaptability, and in Sarawak bearded pigs are found in virtually all habitats from the beaches to the upland rain forests.
No biological research has yet been conducted on bearded pigs, but naturalists have made several observations. The pigs eat the seeds of trees (for example, those of species of Dipterocarpaceae and Fageceae), fallen fruits (of Moraceae, Bombacaceae, and other plant families), roots, stems of wild bananas, herbs, and probably earthworms, and along the coast they dig up and eat turtle eggs.
Births occur throughout the year in Sabah, but the peak coincides with the fruiting season of forest trees, usually August-September. The litter size is from 3 to 11 piglets.
No behavioral studies have been conducted, but observations suggest that bearded pigs are generally sedentary animals, although in some areas they congregate into large groups that may travel long distances together.
The species might be used (alone or together with other pig species) as a local source of meat, or even as the foundation of a meat industry. The bearded pig is accustomed to living in groups, which may make it suitable for husbandry or game management.
There is evidence that the bearded pig will interbreed with the common pig, producing young in which both sexes are fertile.* The progeny might have considerable hybrid vigor.
The bearded pig may have tolerance (if not actual resistance) to tropical diseases and conditions that affect the common pig. The species survives in areas of Southeast Asia where feral herds of common pigs are not common, apparently owing to their inability to cope with disease or other environmental challenges.
No negative qualities have been reported, but the animal's biology, behavior, management, and potential uses are so far virtually unstudied.
Research and Conservation Needs
Aspects of the animal's general biology that should be investigated include:
· Chromosome type and variability, and chromosomal differences between the bearded pig and other wild and domesticated pig species
· Reproductive physiology
· Nutritional physiology
· Social behavior (both in its wild state and under controlled conditions).
To assist in the selective capture of young bearded pigs in the wild, external features that characterize the species at an early age need to be identified.
To assess the bearded pig's potential for contributing hybrid vigor, crossbreeding with other pig species should be attempted under controlled conditions.