Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 78 – The Togian Islands Babirusa


Babirusa wallowing in mud

“The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different”
Hippocrates

With those outlandish tusks, these wonderful creatures were always destined to be the inspiration for all sorts of fabulous legends. There is no other mammal known to man who sports this headgear.  Left alone with few natural predators, elusive and shy, the islanders have been in awe of the babirusa for centuries.  In native legend, they are said to use their tusks to hang upside down from trees in the night and sleep.  Some say they hook their tusks over low branches to support their heads whilst they sleep, while others say the males hang in the trees to spy on the females!

Babirusa tusksIndonesian people make demonic masks based on the bizarre appearance of this unique curly tusked pig.  The Balinese Hindu-era Court of Justice pavilion and the “floating pavilion” of Klungkung palace ruins are famous for the painted babirusa raksasa  (grotesques) on the ceilings – the paintings depicting scenes of the horrors awaiting the profoundly immoral and wicked after death.

They are only hunted locally for meat by non-Muslim communities.  Muslim villagers do not hunt them because of their distant pig connection.  “Pigs are haram – considered unclean, forbidden to eat or touch, and best avoided entirely”.   Actually, the hippopotamus connection is much stronger, but, nevertheless, the babirusa is still a pig.

Bearing all this in mind, and the fact that they have such a lush forest home to forage in, albeit fast disappearing, you would think these shy and retiring creatures would have quite a decent chance of flourishing.  But, no!  They are very much under threat. Extensive illegal logging is destroying these ancient animals and their ancient forest home.  Hunting is rife and they are in demand as zoo exhibits.

Togian babirusas are much larger than their cousins, the better-known north Sulawesi babirusa.  They have a well-developed tail-tuft, and the upper canines of the male are relatively “short, slender, rotated forwards, and always converge”.   Babirusas can reach up to over three and a half feet in length and can weigh up to two hundred and twenty pounds.  Males tend to be larger than females. They have grey to brown skin, sparsely covered with briskly hair, and long, thin legs.  Their snouts are also thin and they have small ears. Tusks come in fours.

Babirusa groupThe tusks can grow up to one foot in length, with the upper canines growing through the upper lip and arching towards the eyes.  These tusks grow continuously throughout the animal’s lifetime.  If they are not worn down or snapped off they can pierce the skull.  The upper tusks of females are of normal size, but, they can be absent altogether.  Male babirusa sharpen their lower tusks on trees, but not so the upper curved ones.  This may be one of the reasons these become so long and curly; they are simply left to grow.  With the tusks sited as they are, barbirusa are unable to root under the dirt for food.  Instead they use their hooves to dig for insects and their larva.

Babirusas have a superb senses of smell and hearing, both of which are gainfully employed to find food and avoid predators. They are also excellent swimmers and very fleet of foot.  They can run as fast as the deer.

And, they absolutely love wallowing in the mud.  Not only does this cool them off, and its fun, but it rids the babirusas of the parasites and insects which live on their skin.

Babirusa piglet born Tampa's Lowry ZooThe breeding season ranges from January to August, after which there is a gestation period of one hundred and fifty-eight days. Normally, two piglets will be birthed.  The little ones will not be weaned until they are six or eight months old, but their diet will have been enriched with solids, starting ten days after birth.

Once thought to be a sub-species of the Babirusa (Babirusa), the Togian Islands Babirusa (Babyrousa togeanensis) is now recognised as a separate species.  Of all four species of Babyrousa, Babyrousa togeanensis is the only one listed as endangered.  The other three species are all considered vulnerable  –  at the moment!

The name “babirusa” means “pig deer”, referring to the resemblance between the tusks and the antlers of the deer.

The average lifespan of babirusas can be as little as ten years in the wild and as much as twenty-four years in captivity.

Although they physically resemble pigs, fossil records show them to be in the hippopotamus family.  However, as only one fossil has ever been found, there is still some debate about this.

Habitat
Tropical rainforest on riverbanks and ponds, where there is a plentiful supply of aquatic plants.  They can also be found in secondary forest, freshwater swamps and beaches.
Where
Indonesia:  The Togian Archipelago, between the northern and eastern Sulawesi peninsulas.
What they eat
Leaves, roots, fruit, invertebrates and small vertebrates.
Threats
Habitat loss through forest clearance and forest fires.  Human disruption and hunting by local villagers.  Hunting for food only occurs in non-Muslim communities.
In 1998 almost 70% of the forest was damaged by fire on Malenge Island.  No barbirusa carcasses were found and the species have been seen returning to these areas since, but the fire affected their food supply.

Status: Endangered
The Togian Islands Babirusa (Babyrousa togeanensis), is listed on the  IUCN Red List of Threatened Species  as Endangered.  It has also been included on Cites Appendix 1 since 1982.  Under Indonesian law, all species of babirusa have been fully protected since 1931. However, hunting remains a significant threat.  The Tongian Islands were designated a Marine National Park in 2004.


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16 thoughts on “Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 78 – The Togian Islands Babirusa

  1. Pingback: Shrew discoveries in Indonesia | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. What a unique looking beastie! And I was just merrily reading along thinking you had sent my touch of sweet UNTIL the curtain fell with ominous sounds as man’s stupidity befell the innocent once again. What a shame! Blessings, Natalie 🙂

  3. A beautiful quote for a beautifully ornated creature. Sweet baby!. We see that protection does not afford a haven to this endangered species. 😦

  4. Pingback: Fast Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 78 - T...

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