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Babirusa: Characteristics, Diet, Facts & More [Fact Sheet]

Welcome to our comprehensive guide to the fascinating creature known as the Babirusa. This unique animal is one of the most remarkable and intriguing species of wild pig, living in the tropical rainforests of the Indonesian Archipelago. Famed for its peculiar tusks, the Babirusa provides an intriguing study of nature’s adaptations and marvels.

In this article, we will journey through the world of the Babirusa, delving into its classification, lifespan, conservation status, behavior, diet, predators, and more. Let’s dive in and get to know this “pig-deer” up close!

The Babirusa at a Glance

Classification

Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia (Mammals)
Order:Artiodactyla
Family:Suidae
Genus:Babyrousa
Species:B. babyrussa, B. togeanensis, B. celebensis

Essential Information

Average Size:2.3-3.7 ft (70-110 cm)
Average Weight:60-220 lbs (27-100 kg)
Average Lifespan:24 years in captivity
Geographical Range:Indonesia (Sulawesi, Togian, Sula, Buru)
Conservation Status:Hairy and Sulawesi Babirusa are Vulnerable, Togian Islands Babirusa is Endangered (IUCN Red List)

Species and Subspecies

The Babirusa, or “pig-deer,” falls under the genus Babyrousa. There are currently three recognized species of Babirusa:

  • Babyrousa babyrussa (Golden Babirusa or Hairy Babirusa)
  • Babyrousa celebensis (Sulawesi Babirusa)
  • Babyrousa togeanensis (Togian Babirusa)

Babyrousa babyrussa, the Golden Babirusa, is perhaps the most well-known due to its unique golden hue, hence the name. This species has two pairs of enlarged canine teeth or tusks. The upper canines penetrate the top of the snout and curve back toward the forehead.

Babyrousa celebensis, the Sulawesi Babirusa, is native to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Its most distinguishing characteristic is the presence of three pairs of enlarged upper canines, with the third pair curving upward and backward.

Babyrousa togeanensis, the Togian Babirusa, inhabits the Togian Islands of Indonesia. It is generally smaller and darker in color than the other species. This species also has two pairs of enlarged canines, similar to the Golden Babirusa, but its tusks are relatively shorter.

Babirusa

Description

A typical Babirusa stands about 2.3 to 3.7 feet tall at the shoulder (70-110 cm) and weighs between 60 and 220 pounds (27-100 kg). They have a fairly elongated, almost deer-like body covered in a coat of thin, bristle-like hair. The color of this hair varies from a golden brown in the Golden Babirusa to grey or black in the Sulawesi and Togian Babirusas.

One of the most notable features of the Babirusa is its unusual tusks. In males, the upper pair of canine teeth grow upwards through the top of the snout and curve back towards the forehead. This trait is unique to the Babirusa and is one of the reasons it’s so easily recognizable. The lower pair of canines also grows into tusks but they usually curve upwards like more familiar wild boar species.

Females, on the other hand, are typically smaller and do not have the prominent tusks of the males. Their tusks, when present, are relatively smaller and do not grow through the snout.

The skin of the Babirusa is thick and tough, a necessary adaptation for living in the dense underbrush of the Indonesian rainforests. In all species, the ears are relatively small and the tail is short with a tuft of hair at the end.

In terms of sexual dimorphism, aside from the tusks, males are generally larger and heavier than females. They also have a larger flange of hardened skin on their snouts, which is believed to serve as a kind of shield during fights with other males.

Females, on the other hand, are typically smaller and do not have the prominent tusks of the males. Their tusks, when present, are relatively smaller and do not grow through the snout. While both sexes have a grey-to-brown body coloration, the females often appear slightly lighter. Furthermore, females also lack the large flange of hardened skin on their snouts, which males have and use as a shield during fights.

Habitat and Distribution

Babirusas are endemic to the Indonesian Archipelago, more specifically to the islands of Sulawesi, Togian, Sula, and Buru. Each species of Babirusa has its specific range within these islands.

They inhabit the tropical rainforests of these islands and are known to prefer areas near water. Babirusas are often found in river valleys, swampy areas, and near the lakeshores, where they have access to wallows and their preferred food sources. They’ve been known to swim well and have even been spotted swimming considerable distances between islands.

Babirusa

Behavior

Babirusas are generally active during the day (diurnal), although they’ve been known to be active at twilight (crepuscular) as well.

In terms of social structure, Babirusas are rather unusual among pig species. While females and their young tend to form small family groups, adult males are typically solitary and only join groups during the mating season. The social structure can sometimes vary with larger groups of mixed genders and ages forming, but this is less common.

Communication in Babirusas is not well-documented but, like other pig species, they likely use a range of vocalizations, body postures, and possibly scent markings to communicate. Males are known to produce a series of grunts and squeals during fights or displays of dominance.

They also engage in unique behaviors like ‘ploughing’, where they press their lower jaws into the ground and move forward, possibly to impress females or intimidate other males.

Babirusas also exhibit unique behavior related to their tusks. Males have been observed to rub their tusks against trees or other hard surfaces, possibly to sharpen them or as a form of scent marking. In captivity, they have also been seen using their tusks to strip bark from trees, indicating a potential use for foraging in the wild.

It’s worth noting that the upward-curving tusks of the Babirusa males serve a significant role during fights. They protect the animal’s eyes while engaging with rivals. This is a rather unique form of natural weaponry and defense strategy in the animal kingdom.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

The Babirusa is an omnivore, with its diet primarily consisting of fruits, berries, leaves, roots, and animal matter. They have also been known to eat small mammals, birds, and even carrion when available. Babirusas play a crucial role in their ecosystems by dispersing seeds through their droppings.

In terms of feeding behavior, Babirusas are foragers, spending a significant portion of their day in search of food. They use their snout to root in the forest floor for edible roots and tubers and are adept at manipulating and breaking open hard-shelled fruits with their strong jaws and teeth.

In areas where human activity has encroached on their habitats, Babirusas may also feed on crops, earning them the ire of local farmers.

Predators

Due to their size, adult Babirusas have few natural predators. However, young Babirusas and, occasionally, adults can fall prey to large carnivores that share their habitats. This includes animals such as saltwater crocodiles and reticulated pythons.

Humans are perhaps the most significant threat to Babirusas. They are hunted for their meat, which is considered a delicacy in certain parts of their range. Moreover, habitat loss due to human activities such as deforestation and conversion of land to agriculture is another significant threat to Babirusas.

In addition to these direct threats, human activities often result in increased access for other predators to Babirusa habitats, thereby indirectly increasing predation pressure.

Babirusa

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Babirusas have a fascinating reproductive cycle. Males often engage in fierce battles to secure the opportunity to mate with a female, using their prominent tusks as weapons. Once a male wins the right to mate, the pair engages in a relatively short courtship before copulation.

The gestation period for Babirusas is about 150 to 158 days, after which the female gives birth to a small litter, usually consisting of 1 to 2 piglets. On rare occasions, they can have up to four offspring at once. The piglets are precocial, meaning they are relatively mature and mobile from the moment of birth.

Mothers provide significant care for their young, nursing and protecting them from predators. The piglets start to forage for solid food within a few days, but they continue to nurse for several months. By the time they are a year old, they are fully independent.

Conservation and Threats

Babirusas are currently listed as Vulnerable and Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Their populations have seen a significant decline due to habitat loss, hunting pressure, and increased predation facilitated by human activities. The fragmentation of their habitats has also led to genetic isolation of populations, which is a concern for their long-term survival.

The major threats to the Babirusa include habitat loss due to deforestation for agriculture, illegal hunting for their meat, and human-wildlife conflict, particularly with farmers whose crops they tend to raid when their natural food sources become scarce.

Conservation efforts for Babirusas involve several approaches. Locally, there have been attempts to reduce hunting pressure through law enforcement and raising awareness about their conservation status. Internationally, several zoos participate in breeding programs to help maintain the genetic diversity of the species.

There are also ongoing efforts to preserve and restore their natural habitats, though these are often challenging due to the competing interests for land use.

The Babirusa is protected under Indonesian law, and hunting them is illegal. However, enforcement of these laws can be difficult, and illegal hunting continues to be a problem. Further efforts in research, public education, and habitat protection are needed to secure the future of these unique animals.

Fun Facts

  1. The name “Babirusa” translates to “pig-deer” in Malay/Indonesian languages, which refers to the deer-like appearance of the animal and its long, pig-like snout.
  2. Babirusas are one of the few animals in which the teeth can actually penetrate their own skull. In some elderly males, if the tusks are not worn down, they can grow back into the forehead.
  3. Unlike most pigs, Babirusas have a stomach more similar to that of a ruminant, allowing them to eat a wide range of plant matter.
  4. Babirusas are very good swimmers, and they’ve been spotted swimming to different islands in their Indonesian Archipelago habitat.
  5. Males occasionally “box” each other by standing on their hind legs and hitting each other with their forelegs, much like human boxers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do Babirusas have tusks?

The tusks of Babirusas, especially the upper pair that grows upwards and backwards, are likely a result of sexual selection. They are mostly found in males and are used when males fight each other to win over females during the breeding season. Interestingly, the tusks also serve to protect the male’s eyes during such fights.

Can Babirusas be domesticated like other pigs?

While Babirusas have been kept in captivity, they are not typically domesticated. They have specific habitat requirements and diets that can be challenging to meet in a domestic setting. Additionally, their tusks can present safety concerns.

What does a Babirusa eat?

Babirusas are omnivores, feeding on a diet of fruits, berries, leaves, and roots, as well as small mammals, birds, and carrion when available. They are known to be quite skilled at manipulating and breaking open hard-shelled fruits.

How long does a Babirusa live?

In the wild, Babirusas can live up to 10 years, while in captivity, with a controlled diet and absence of predators, they have been known to live up to 24 years.

Why are Babirusas endangered?

Babirusas are currently listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (and Endangered for the Togian Babirusa). Major threats include habitat loss due to deforestation for agriculture, illegal hunting for their meat, and human-wildlife conflict with farmers. Despite being protected under Indonesian law, enforcement can be difficult, leading to continued hunting and population decline.

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