With swine flu now in at least 22 countries and the World Health Organization announcing that you may be able to get sick from eating pork from infected animals, pigs appear to be on people's minds 24/7. Here are some facts about pigs that you might not catch on the nightly news:
Pigs snuggle close to one another and prefer to sleep nose to nose. They dream, much as humans do. In their natural surroundings, pigs spend hours playing, sunbathing, and exploring. People who run animal sanctuaries for farmed animals often report that pigs, like humans, enjoy listening to music, playing with soccer balls, and getting massages.
Pigs communicate constantly with one another; more than 20 vocalizations have been identified that pigs use in different situations, from wooing mates to saying, "I'm hungry!"
Newborn piglets learn to run to their mothers' voices and to recognize their own names. Mother pigs sing to their young while nursing.
According to Professor Donald Broom of the Cambridge University Veterinary School, "[Pigs] have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly [more so than human] 3-year-olds. "
Pigs appear to have a good sense of direction and have found their way home over great distances. Adult pigs can run at speeds of up to 11 miles an hour.
Professor Stanley Curtis of Penn State University has found that pigs can play joystick-controlled video games and are "capable of abstract representation. " Dr. Curtis believes that "there is much more going on in terms of thinking and observing by these pigs than we would ever have guessed."
Pigs do not "eat like pigs" or "pig out." They prefer to eat slowly and savor their food.
Suzanne Held, who studies the cognitive abilities of farmed animals at the University of Bristol's Centre of Behavioural Biology, says that pigs are "really good at remembering where food is located, because in their natural environment food is patchily distributed and it pays to revisit profitable food patches."
Pigs are clean animals. If given sufficient space, they will be careful not to soil the area where they sleep or eat. Pigs don't "sweat like pigs"; they are actually unable to sweat. They like to bathe in water or mud to keep cool, and they actually prefer water to mud. One woman developed a shower for her pigs, and they learned to turn it on and off by themselves.
In his book The Whole Hog, biologist and Johannesburg Zoo director Lyall Watson writes, "I know of no other animals [who] are more consistently curious, more willing to explore new experiences, more ready to meet the world with open mouthed enthusiasm. Pigs, I have discovered, are incurable optimists and get a big kick out of just being."