As a child you are frequently asked ‘what is your favourite animal?’. Usually it doesn’t take much thinking to come up with your answer and it is quite possibly one of the popular choices of dog, cat, horse or dolphin – something considered cute or fluffy. But what about the slightly more unusual choices? My answer to this question has always been pigs and that has often been met with a disapproving or confused look. Although I have always struggled to understand why.
Most people’s perceptions of pigs come from colloquialisms and phrases such as ‘sweating like a pig’, ‘you’re such a pig’ or – every mum’s favourite – ‘it’s like a pig-sty in here’. These sayings are partly responsible for the negative image society has of pigs. However they are also our own creation, formed from our ideas of what a pig should be like.
For example, did you know that pigs don’t actually sweat? In fact, everyone knows that pigs love to roll around in water or mud, but what they don’t realise is that this is their alternative way of cooling themselves down! So, not only is the phrase ‘sweating like a pig’ confusing and incorrect, it also creates a misleading idea that pigs roll in the mud because they are ‘dirty’ (another common misconception).
So why do we think this way? Well, simply put, as a society we think it’s easier. Thinking of a pig as dumb, smelly and ugly allows us to create a false sense of superiority, it allows us to justify the way we treat them and gives a reason for why they are less valuable than some of the animals we surround ourselves with daily.
It’s a little known fact that pigs are actually one of the most intelligent animals in the world (that we are aware of). Their cognitive ability is often compared to that of dogs and chimpanzee’s. Not only are they highly intelligent but they are also very emotional beings.
In 2015 Lori Marino, neuroscientist and founder of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, and Christina M. Colvin, a professor at Emory University, published a paper titled “Thinking Pigs: A Comparative Review of Cognition, Emotion, and Personality in Sus domesticus” which examined previous works on the emotional and intellectual capabilities of pigs. In the paper the authors stated; “What is known suggests that pigs are cognitively complex and share many traits with animals whom we consider intelligent”.
Throughout this paper the authors discuss a variety of studies and experiments that have been conducted on pigs in recent years and the findings are amazing! For instance:
- Pigs have a fantastic sense of smell. They are able to sniff out food and other scents from a distance, track these down with just their snout and determine which foods are edible when foraging. Studies show that they also use their sense of smell to determine social cues in other pigs.
- They use vocalisations in social contexts; to identify other animals, to communicate with other pigs and mothers use vocal calls to speak to their babies. They are known for their famous pig grunting noises but a pigs hearing actually spans into the ultrasound range, meaning that a lot of their communications are inaudible to us, talk about the ultimate secret language!
- Pigs are social animals, they can recognise other pigs as individuals and show a favouritism towards ones they know or have met before, even amongst closely related ones. It is also believed that pigs can differentiate between familiar and unfamiliar humans, recognising the difference between a friendly handler and a stranger, and showing preference for their friends.
- There are also studies to suggest that they have perceptions of time, long-term memories, social hierarchies, spatial awareness, are able to learn tricks such as ‘fetch’ and love to play!
Does all of this sound familiar? That’s probably because these are characteristics we often associate with ‘man’s best friend’, the dog.
So why then, are dogs treated with respect and love? Why are they allowed to sleep in our beds and nap on our sofas? Why are they given presents at Christmas and counted as one of the family? And why is the idea of selective breeding amongst dogs, or eating dogs, so highly disputed when they are so similar to our less fortunate friend the pig?
It is expected that the pigs we recognise today are descendants of wild boars that were collected and kept for breeding, as long as 9,000 years ago. Throughout time pigs have been bred to create the optimum consumer product, an animal that could yield large amounts of meat and reproduce easily. And that is how we have been conditioned to see them, consumer products of no emotional or intellectual value.
When speaking in an interview in 2015, Lori Marino stated “The more I learn about other animals the more I am realising that there is a common level of intelligence across all life forms with brains. Each species is a variation on a theme”.
At Open Cages we believe this entirely. We know that pigs deserve love and kindness, that they understand more than is visible to us and feel physical and emotional pain when mistreated.
If you feel the same way please join us and help put an end to factory farming by signing our petition.
If you are interested in learning more about the paper mentioned in this post click here.