A quick glance at the Bornean bearded pig (Sus barbatus barbatus) makes it obvious how it got its name. Wiry, yellowish-white whiskers grow from its long, narrow jaw like an unruly beard.

This pig species is most abundant in Borneo, where it is the only native wild pig. Small subspecies populations also occur on nearby islands in the Sulu Archipelago in the Philippines and on the mainland of Malaysia. Well adapted to life in the tropical evergreen rain forest, these pigs also sometimes inhabit beaches, mangroves, and upper montane cloud forests.

The Bornean bearded pig has a well-developed sense of smell and uses its snout to dig in the ground, looking for treats such as roots, earthworms, fruit, and seedlings. Especially important to the pig’s diet are the oil-rich seeds of native oak and chestnut trees as well as dipterocarp trees.

The pigs live in a stable family group—matriarchal herds with as many as 200 individuals. Most of the time they live in one place, but once a year they migrate—the only pig species in the world that does so. Several hundred pigs travel well-worn paths at night and retreat into the thicket to rest during the day. Scientists are not certain why they migrate. It might be to search for food, such as the fruits of the camphor tree.

The bearded pig is culturally and economically important in Borneo’s rural communities. Local people have hunted the animals sustainably for thousands of years, but their hunting habits may have to change. Logging and agricultural activities have destroyed the pigs’ habitat and reduced populations to a point that makes traditional hunting levels unsustainable. The bearded pig is now classified as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

  1. In what ways is the appearance of a Bornean bearded pig different from that of other pig species?

    • Answer

      Of all the living pig species, the Bornean bearded pig has the slimmest torso and longest head. It also has two pairs of warts on the face, with the first pair covered by the beard hair.

  2. Why is logging a problem for the Bornean bearded pig population?

    • Answer

      Nutrients in the seeds of native oak and chestnut trees, as well as dipterocarp trees, are important to the pigs’ diet. As these trees are cleared for agriculture, an important component of the bearded pigs’ food source is compromised.

  3. What practices could contribute to sustaining the populations of Bornean and other bearded pigs?

    • Answer

      Answers will vary. Bornean bearded pig populations are heavily hunted as a food source for the people of Borneo. Therefore, protection of the species would benefit the human populations of the island. Carefully regulating hunting of these species, halting logging in certain areas, and creating and managing parks and preserves where bearded pig populations can thrive are tactics that could help keep these pigs from vulnerability or extinction.

camphor tree
Noun

(Cinnamomum camphora) large evergreen tree used to produce camphor, a waxy and flammable substance with industrial uses.

cloud forest
Noun

wooded area, usually high-altitude, almost always covered by clouds and fog.

dipterocarp tree
Noun

hundreds of species of large tree found in the rain forests of Southeast Asia and tropical Africa that produce a hard, oily seed.

mangrove
Noun

type of tree or shrub with long, thick roots that grows in salty water.

matriarch
Noun

female leader of a family.

migrate
Verb

to move from one place or activity to another.

montane
Adjective

natural region defined by upland slopes and large conifers.

native
Adjective

indigenous, or from a specific geographic region.

unsustainable
Adjective

unable to be continued at the same rate for a long period of time.

vulnerable
Adjective

capable of being hurt.