Bahamas' famous swimming pigs found dead — and tourists may be to blame
Animal rights advocates are sounding the alarm after seven of the Bahamas' famous swimming pigs turned up dead last week.
The investigation into what killed the creatures is still ongoing, but there is suspicion from their caretakers and animal protection advocates that tourists plying them with booze and junk food are to blame.
Any animal will learn to swim if the reward at the end is good enough.- Kim Aranha, Bahamas Humane Society
"That the Humane Society has received countless reports over the years about tourists feeding these animals the wrong kind of food and trying to get them drunk is not news," Kim Aranha, president of the Bahamas Humane Society, told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. "I've heard that frequently."
The pigs live on Big Major Cay, colloquially referred to as Pig Beach, and swim along the shores of Exuma — much to the delight of tourists who travel from all corners of the globe to see them, swim with them and feed them.
They've captivated the imaginations of artists, even inspiring a children's book called The Secrets of Pig Island. One of them even made a cameo in a 2013 music video for Pitbull by Timber and featuring Ke$ha.
"It's very unusual. They're unique. The piglets are very sweet," Aranha said. "It's a special souvenir that people take home with them when they go back north."
After seven of the 22 pigs were found dead last Friday, the government is looking at bringing in new measures to protect them, such as banning tourists from feeding the animals or setting up some kind of boundary to protect them.
"The animal laws in the Bahamas are a little sketchy at best," Aranha said.
Where did they come from?
So how did the little oinkers end up on the sandy beaches of the Bahamas to begin with? Much like the tourists, they are not native to the islands.
"Some say they were left by a group of sailors, who planned to come back and cook them. Or that the pigs swam over from a shipwreck nearby," reads the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism website.
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Aranha believes they were likely brought to the Bahamas as farm animals and thrived because there is fresh water on the island.
They probably picked up swimming to impress humans and get some extra grub, she said.
"Any animal will learn to swim if the reward at the end is good enough."
They've proven so popular that an entire tourism industry has sprung up around them and four other islands have acquired their own pigs, she said.
But the industry that threatens them also sustains them. Their natural water source is drying up, Aranha said, and the local caretakers bring fresh water to the island for the pigs.
The animals appear to be well looked after on the island, she said. The official tour guides who bring people to see the pigs operate ethically and bring their own hog feed for the tourists to give the animals.
But rogue tourists who show up on random boats have been known to do the creatures harm, she said.
"Right now it's blowing out of proportion with people, anybody, bringing food there, anybody doing what they [want to] do. We have people coming there giving the pigs beer, rum, riding on top of them, all kinds of stuff," Wayne Nixon, one of the pigs' official caretakers, told the Nassau Guardian.
Government investigators are doing a necropsy on one of the pigs and have taken samples of their water, Aranha said. Now it's just a matter of waiting for answers.
In the meantime, the surviving 15 pigs do not appear to have been affected by whatever killed their relatives.
"They seem to be OK. The tourists boats are still going down there. They're still coming out and being fed," she said. "Once we find out what killed the other pigs, then we can see if it's something on the island we need to be worried about or whether it was just a terrible, terrible accident."