Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

Babirusas are largely diurnal, with a tendency to be more active in the morning when they feed. They are swift runners, weaving paths through the forest, and are also good swimmers, being able to swim to off-shore islands. They enjoy wallowing in mud baths like other pigs though other behaviours differ; The babirusa rarely use their snouts for rooting out food like other pigs, and they sharpen their lower tusks on tree trunks rather than on upper canines as other pigs do (2). They have an excellent sense of hearing and smell, which is invaluable in a thick forest environment, and have an omnivorous diet, feeding mainly on fruits, fungi, leaves, insect larvae, nuts and small mammals (2). Adult males are primarily solitary, while females form small groups of one or two females and their young (3). They have a slow reproductive rate compared to many other members of the pig family, with females bearing one or two piglets per litter in a nest of branches and leaves (7). The young are weaned at six to eight months and reach sexual maturity after one to two years; individuals are known to live up to 24 years (2).
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Description

This is one of the world's most bizarre looking mammals. Indeed, so bizarre is this animal's appearance that it has inspired some Indonesian people to make demonic masks based on them and even offer the animals themselves as gifts to visitors (5). Its name, babirusa, means 'pig-deer' and its peculiar appearance has lead local people to confer mythical properties to it (6). Babirusas are in fact members of the pig family, and the only living representatives of the subfamily Babyrousinae (7). Its common name comes from its pig-like rounded body, and the highly distinctive tusks of males. These tusks are in fact upper and lower canine teeth which grow vertically and curve e backwards towards the forehead; the upper tusks passing through the skin of the snout These dramatic features may grow to 30 cm in length, though they usually absent or much smaller in females (3). The babirusa's body is rounded, with a mostly hairless hide which ranges in colour from grey to brown, with lighter underparts (3). Adult mainland babirusas often have large folds of skin on the neck and belly, with thinly distributed yellow hairs (3); whereas the nominate form from Buru and Sula Islands is notable in having a short hairy coat – hence being referred to as the 'hairy' or 'golden' babirusa. The young are also uniformly brown in colour rather than striped like most other wild pig offspring (8).
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Distribution

Range

This genus has a very limited distribution, with the Sulawesi babirusa, Babyrousa celebensis, being endemic to the island of Sulawesi, the Togian Islands babirusa, Babyrousa togeanensis, being endemic to the neighbouring Togian Islands, and the hairy or golden babirusa, Babyrousa babyrussa, being found on Buru and Sula Islands of Taliabu and Mangole; all of which are in Indonesia (2) (4) (7) (9).
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Ecology

Habitat

The babirusa inhabits tropical rainforests and deciduous forests on the banks of rivers and lakes and seems to avoid shrub vegetation (6). Whereas in the past this intriguing animal has tended to occur in the low lying areas near coasts, recent surveys suggest that it is now increasingly confined to the interior on higher and less accessible ground (7).
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Status

The taxonomy of the babirusas is controversial, but advisors to the IUCN have settled on the division of the Babyrousa genus into three distinct species, rather than subspecies (4). The Togian Islands babirusa, Babyrousa togeanensis, is classified as Endangered (EN) and the Sulawesi babirusa, Babyrousa celebensis, and the hairy or golden babirusa, Babyrousa babyrussa, are classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1). All are listed on Appendix I of CITES (5).
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Threats

Babirusas are seriously threatened throughout their remaining range. The total wild population numbers are unknown, but unlikely to be more than a few thousand individuals, and dwindling rapidly as a result of continued illegal poaching and the loss of habitat from logging (7) (9). The loss and degradation of habitat from large-scale commercial logging not only deprives the babirusa of their moist forest habitat, but also increases their exposure to hunters (7). Although this species is fully protected by law, many animals are still caught and sold in local markets, especially in north Sulawesi where pig meat is considered a delicacy (3). Due to the babirusa's slow reproductive rate these threats unfortunately have a significant impact on the population (9).
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Management

Conservation

International trade of the babirusa is prohibited by their listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (5). To date, approximately 12,000 km² of land on Sulawesi has been declared as wildlife protection areas and a further 20,000 km² await formal designation. While efforts are being made by the park services to educate local people and control animal poaching and logging, there is a chronic lack of financial resources in Indonesia as well as pressure from an expanding human population. Unfortunately the lack of up-to-date information on these species further restricts the effectiveness of any conservation measures at the local level (9) particularly most threatened forms from the smaller islands (7). Mainland babirusas have been bred in captivity very successfully, but most of the existing captive population is highly in-bred (7). Fortunately the Indonesian authorities and a proportion of the public consider the babirusa to be a species of particular interest and especially worthy of protection. It is frequently referred to in park staff training and conservation materials and even more recently, in children's books, which will hopefully raise the awareness needed for the protection of these extraordinary animals (9).
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