Rare tusked pig joins the Riverbanks Zoo family

Source: Riverbanks Zoo
Source: Riverbanks Zoo

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It moves like a deer, has skin like a hippo, but it's a rare pig and it's now on exhibit at Riverbanks Zoo.

A male babirusa, named Bertello, has joined the animal collection at the zoo.  He is 1 ½ years old and approximately 70 pounds—a little more than one-third of what he will weigh when full grown. With his thick, nearly hairless body and wrinkly skin, it may seem like Bertello could be a distant relative of the hippopotamus; but his developing tusks and elongated legs indicate that he is instead a creature of the most extraordinary kind.

"The babirusa's unique appearance places it on the must-see list at the Zoo." said John Davis, curator of mammals at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. "Its most noticeable feature is its tusks protruding through the top of its snout."

The Malaysian term "babi-rusa" translates to deer-pig. While the babirusa's longish legs allow it to move swiftly like a deer, it is in fact a pig. The babirusa is also a gifted swimmer. Native only to a few islands in Indonesia, the babirusa prefers to live in moist forests, reed thickets and shores of rivers and lakes.

Bertello arrived at Riverbanks from Los Angeles Zoo in December. Keepers have been gradually introducing him to new items in his exhibit to help him acclimate to his new surroundings.

The babirusa is the second mammal species at Riverbanks to come from Indonesia; the other is the siamang.

Babirusas are endangered due to shrinking habitat and over-hunting. The Babirusa Species Survival Plan, managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, is currently looking for a suitable female to pair with Bertello for breeding.

Bertello can be seen in the former warthog exhibit adjacent to the African Bird Yard during normal zoo hours.

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