Which wild pigs are running amok in Malaysia? And why now?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2007:
KUALA LUMPUR– Rampaging wild pigs are a problem in Malaysia,
practically all sources agree. Less clear is which wild pigs are the
Malaysia has native warty pigs and bearded pigs, as well as
abundant feral domestic pigs–and they can hybridize.
The warty pigs and bearded pigs are subjects of conservation
concern, albeit perhaps more as prey for highly endangered tigers
than for their own sake. Malaysia now has as few as 500 tigers,
down from more than 3,000 circa 1950.
Feral and hybrid pigs are also prey for tigers, but
conservationists tend to view feral and hybrid pigs as unwelcome
competitors for warty and bearded pig habitat.
Both conservationists and ordinary rural Malaysians also
worry that because pigs of domestic ancestry tend to live closer to
human habitation, they might draw tigers closer too, into greater
likelihood of attacking humans. Unlike in India, where much of the
human population is uniquely tolerant of occasional fatal attacks by
wildlife, any attack in Malaysia tends to result in the animal’s
demise. If wildlife officials fail to hunt the suspected animal(s)
down, vigilantes intervene.
Reports of miscreant pig behavior seldom distinguish among
the species. Perhaps all Malaysian wild pigs are now behaving badly.
On the other hand, perhaps the pig incidents of today are a
delayed consequence of the Nipah virus outbreak of 1999, when
efforts to eradicate much of the domestic pig population sent any pig
who could escape the killing into the hills on the run.
Seven years later, the descendants of refugee pigs and any
other pigs the refugees met in flight may be trying to reclaim their
ancestral habitat in muddy village streets and dumps.
Pigs have not been well thought of by most Malaysians in many
centuries, if ever. Neither the Muslim majority (58%) nor most of
the Hindu minority (7%) eat pork. The Muslims, especially, tend
to consider pigs unclean. The ethnic Chinese minority (28%) do eat
and raise pigs–and that has been a frequent flashpoint for racial
and sectarian conflict, when entrepreneurs have tried to raise pigs
in the wrong villages or wrong neighborhoods,
At least 108 Malaysians died of the mysterious Nipah virus
during the first half of 1999. Almost all of them worked at pig
farms, or lived near pig farms. The native reservoir for Nipah
virus turned out to be wild fruit bats, also known as flying foxes.
Historically, the bats lived in deep forest and kept to
themselves. In early 1999, however, deforestation associated with
log poaching and forest fires set to clear land for slash-and-burn
agriculture drove thousands of hungry bats away from their mountain
homes, into agricultural districts, where rotting produce collected
for pigs provided an alternative food source.
Sick and weak, many bats died. Pigs ate them, incubated
the Nipah virus, and passed it to their caretakers.
The Malaysia government sought to contain Nipah virus by
sending soldiers to kill more than a million pigs between mid-March
and mid-May 1999. About 1,800 pig farms were closed, impoverishing
an estimated 300,000 Malaysians, mostly ethnic Chinese, whose
livelihoods had depended on the pork industry.
Despite the discontent of the former pig farmers,
pig-related problems seemed for a time to cease being a public issue.
Complaints voiced in the Malaysia Star in early 2005 concerned wild
pigs making noise at night, uprooting banana trees, smashing flower
pots, and biting a dog who tried to chase marauding pigs back to the
On April 5, 2005, however, in Kampung Nakhoda, a
rampaging boar injured three-year-old Mohd Manshah Saputra and two
men in their fifties who apparently tried to come to his aid.
Running into a mosque, widely seen as an act of desecration, the
boar was cornered and shot.
On November 25, 2005, a boar charged into a private school
at Taman Angsa Mas in Kuala Sawah, Rantau, scattering 15 children,
injuring a six-year-old, and repeatedly biting four-year-old Tan Pei
Fun, who received 10 stitches. Forty hunters spent three days
tracking and killing the boar.
The wild attacks seemed to focus continuing background
concern about disease transmission and pollution associated with pigs.
Malacca state rural development and agriculture committee
chair Yunus Husin in March 2006 ordered that the Malacca pig herd be
reduced from about 120,000 to just 48,000, “which is enough to meet
demand in Malacca,” wrote Star reporters Lee Yuk Peng and Christina
“The number of pigs are to be reduced because of water
pollution and the smell, and as a precaution against possible
outbreaks of the Nipah virus and other diseases,” explained Husin.
“I hope non-Muslims will be more sensitive to this matter,”
said state assembly member Abu Pit.
But reducing the numbers of owned pigs seemed to have no
effect on the behavior of feral pigs.
On June 14, 2006 two boars attacked K. Nagaraju, 44, as he
sprayed pesticide at Felcra Serting, Bahau. One boar chased
Nagaraju when he fled, knocked him down, and bit him to death on
the chest and stomach. Game rangers shot the boar at the scene about
an hour later.
On November 4, 2006, a boar invaded a restaurant in
Kuantan, biting Abdullah Hamid Bakar, 48, before passer-by Nik
Hassan Nik Lah, 41, clubbed and stabbed the boar to death.
Charged by a boar on November 30, 2006, while feeding her
chickens, Apipah Ahmad, 63, of Kuala Kangsar, prayed for
deliverance while suffering multiple bites on her hands, legs, and
back. “I fell down as the boar ran toward me and began gnawing at
my body,” she told the Star. “When he went for my face, I could
only use both my hands to fend him off. But when I shouted ‘God is
great’ three times, the boar suddenly fell on his side, enabling me
to run to safety.”
Children were previously attacked by wild pigs in the same
neighborhood, the Star reported, and an elderly motorcyclist had
been killed when he hit a boar.
“We don’t understand why these animals are now coming out
from the jungle to our house,” said Jeorge Subramaniam, 56, after
one recent incident.
But there appear to be more pigs than ever in the dwindling
Malaysian forests. Like the people whose houses and farms keep
expanding into former rainforest, the pigs have few other places to