Zookeepers at ZSL London Zoo have been squealing with delight over the arrival of the Zoo’s first 'demon pigs’ – and are determined to rally the public in sharing their newfound love for the unique-looking swines, reputed to be the ugliest on earth.
The hairless pair of babirusa (Babyrousa babyrussa) - named Budi and Beth - have won the hearts of zookeepers at the iconic zoo, who have likened them to creatures from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books.
“With their wrinkly grey skin and long wet snouts no one could call babirusa pigs beautiful,” explained zookeeper Hannah Joy. “In fact, their traditional nicknames aren’t kind at all; people who live alongside them in Indonesia call them rat pigs or demon pigs, because of their long, misshapen tusks - which are actually teeth growing through their noses that curl backwards.
“Budi has very Lupin-like features while Beth resembles Dobby, and just like those famous characters they’ve absolutely won us all over - the way they wag their long stringy tails when they’re happy is a joy to see.”
Arriving in London on Friday 10 July, less than a month after the historic zoo reopened its gates following three months of lockdown, the pair spent their first few weeks settling into their cosy off-show dens, before starting to venture outside into the summer sunshine of their new paddock earlier this week - where lucky visitors will be able to spot them on socially-distanced trips to the Zoo.
“Budi and Beth have both settled into their new home really well,” explained Hannah. “They’ve been busy building their own nests out of straw, rolling around in their mud wallow and have even bravely dipped a hoof into their new swimming pool.
“Pigs are naturally very good swimmers, but as Budi and Beth are still youngsters we’re taking their swimming lessons one day at a time – we're confident they’ll both be showing off their skills in no time!”
Beth has just turned two while Budi is just a year old and will grow up to sport the crooked, spiral tusks the male pigs – found only on the Indonesian islands of Sulawesi, Togian, Sula and Buru - are famous for.
The pair have come to the Zoo as part of a vital international breeding programme for the species, which is classified by the IUCN as ‘Vulnerable’ in the wild due to habitat loss and being hunted for the bushmeat trade.
“They may not be Indonesia’s most photogenic residents, but babirusa do fulfil an important role in the forest's ecology - turning the soil and spreading seeds as they forage,” added Hannah.
“People might say that Budi and Beth have faces that only Newt Scamander could love, but they really are fantastic beasts who need our help – and you can find them at London Zoo!”
ZSL London Zoo reopened to the public on Monday 15 June after an unprecedented three months of closure due to the coronavirus lockdown. The loss of income put the charity zoo under huge financial pressure as they continued to provide the highest level of care for their animals. Now open to limited numbers only, ZSL, the international conservation charity behind the Zoo, is calling on the public to help ensure they stay open by booking a ticket, joining as a member or donating to ZSL.