The babirusa is one of the strangest members of the pig family, with its distinctive pairs of tusks that sprout from the lower jaw as well as through the top of the upper jaw. They are found on the Wallacea island group in Indonesia.
Scientific & Common Names
Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Class - Mammalia
Order – Artiodactyla
Family – Suidae
Subfamily – Babyrousinae
Genus - Babyrousa
Species – B. celebensis (Sulawesi Babirusa), B. babyrussa (Buru Babirusa), B. togeanesnsis (Togian Babirussa), B. bolabatuensis (Bola Batu Babirusa)
Common Name – Babirusa, Deer Pig, Pig Deer
Babirusa are known for their large, curving tusks, particularly those emanating from the upper jaws of male pigs. These enlarged canine teeth actually point upwards, rather than downward like most upper teeth, causing them to puncture through the skin and curve toward the forehead. These tusks grow throughout the creature’s lifespan, so they must be grown down to avoid penetrating the animal’s forehead and harming it. This grinding process is usually accomplished through normal foraging behavior.
The name babirusa means “deer pig” in Malay, and refers to the antler-like tusks as well as the thin, deer-like legs of the animal. While the most well-known species, the Sulawesi babirusa, appears nearly hairless, the three other species have shaggy fur of various lengths. Babirusa can grow up to two feet tall and three feet long, and can weigh over 200 lbs.
Females give birth to 1 or 2 piglets. Little is known about the breeding habits of babirusa, but it is known that males will compete over females. Rather than using their tusks for combat, they usually rear up on their hind legs and fight with their front limbs. The tusks may be used for courtship to impress females, rather than for engaging in battle with rivals.
Babirusas live in moist, swampy thickets of the rainforests on the Sulawesi, Buru, Togian and Sulu Islands. They spend the day foraging for food or wallowing in the mud. Babirusas eat mostly roots, leaves, fruits and nuts, which they can crack with their strong jaws. Males tend to be solitary, while females and young pigs often travel in large groups, sometimes containing more than 80 individuals.
Until recently, it was believed there was only one species of babirusa. However, evidence now shows that there are four distinct species, differentiated by their size and the amount of fur covering their bodies. The most recognizable species is the Sulawesi babirusa, though the original type species name (B. babyrussa) is now applied to the Buru or golden babirusa. One species, the Bola Batu babirusa, is only known from remains and may be a subspecies of the Sulawesi babirusa.
Though they are present on many islands in the Wallacea group, their absence on certain islands is thought to be due to babirusa being transported from one island to another by humans to be given as gifts.
All of the babirusa species are threatened to some degree. The Sulawesi and Buru varieties are listed as “vulnerable” while the Togian babirusa is considered “endangered”. The IUCN considers the Bola Batu babirusa as synonymous with the Sulawesi species when considering its data.
While hunting of babirusas are illegal, poachers still pose a significant threat to these creatures. Habitat loss from logging in their rainforest home is also a danger.