Witty Piggies (a brief overview of pig intelligence)

Sadly, pigs tend to get a bad rap.  People associate pigs with gluttony, untidiness, laziness, and stench.  I’m sure you’ve heard phrases like “sweat like a pig,” “filthy pig,” and “smell like a pig” that we use for insulting one another.  Unfortunately for the poor pigs, these things could not be farther from the truth.  People who actually know pigs personally and study them (in their natural habitat – not on filthy factory farms) know them to be one of the smartest, cleanest domesticated animals on the planet.  (And by the way, pigs actually don’t sweat.  They don’t even have sweat glands!)

When we think of intelligent animals, pigs probably don’t come to mind…  primates, dolphins, dogs, and even horses probably, but not pigs.  However, pigs have actually surpassed primates in a lot of intelligence tests and can do a lot of the things dogs do that make us think of them as intelligent. Many researchers even say that pigs are smarter than dogs.  They have a great long-term memory; can remember/recognize objects, signs, and symbols; open and close latches and gates, learn and remember words and phrases (even after not hearing them for years), and have a sense of direction.  Pigs are also very crafty problem solvers and great at learning new behaviors.

In November 2009, Animal Behaviour published an article about research that proved domestic pigs can quickly learn how mirrors work.  Pigs used the mirrors to gain an understanding of their surroundings and find food.  Although researchers could not conclude whether the pigs actually recognized themselves in the mirrors, a sign of what we believe to represent self-awareness and higher intelligence, this shows us a lot of insight into the mind of a pig.  Show a dog his food (located somewhere behind him) with a mirror and see if he realizes that he needs to turn around to get it!  Donald Broom, a researcher at the University of Cambridge in England who studies animal cognition and welfare was part of this study.  Broom points out that the findings from this experiment suggest that pigs have a “relatively higher degree of awareness” in that they use observations and memories to evaluate situations in relation to themselves (ScienceNews).  The pigs then demonstrated this awareness with an action appropriate to the situation.  In this case, the appropriate action was going to find the food, hidden behind a partition.

Many researchers compare pigs to dogs in that they can recognize their own names, learn to do tricks, herd sheep, fetch a ball, and love to cuddle with each other and with humans.  But can a dog learn how to work a thermostat or play video games?  Pigs can!  According to Richard W. Byrne, a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of St. Andrews, pigs are intelligent for the same reasons primates are: “evolutionary pressures that prompted cleverness [through the need for] social life and food.”  In the wild, Byrne explains, pigs live in long-term social groups.  They keep track of one another and protect one another from harm.  They also use their snout with superior dexterity “not unlike the handiness of a monkey.”  Most of us would never eat a monkey or a dog.  They are too intelligent, we relate to them in one way or another, and it seems too strange and cruel.  This applies to pigs as well, which is why (amongst other reasons) I have made the personal decision not to eat them.

Pigs, like all social animals, go crazy in confinement. Being locked in cages, with no fresh air, unable to move or do anything natural to them makes them literally go insane.  The conditions of factory farming are extremely cruel and pigs end up turning on one another, gnawing the bars of their cages until their gums bleed, and crying excessively.  Think about this in the context of what we’ve learned above.  Pigs in the wild love to cuddle with one another and are extremely protective of each other.  What a nightmare factory farms are for them!  And if you think you’ve slipped under the radar by eating “cage free “ or “free range foods,” think again.  These terms are not regulated, mean next-to-nothing, and in the end, most free range animals all go to die in the same place as those raised on factory farms.  When animals are bred for food and profit, suffering is almost inevitable.

I encourage you to read more about pigs.  There’s a lot we can learn from them and science is showing that our brains and bodies are very similar to pig’s.  Also, I vote that we start thinking of pigs in a more positive light as intelligent, cuddly, innovative, crafty, playful, and loyal.  Suggested compliments are, “You’re as cuddly as a pig!” “Well aren’t you just as smart as a pig!” and “You have the memory of a pig!”

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