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There’s ababirusaundermy bed

EARLY this year, on the other side of the planet from Scotland, a small six-member team from Ambon Island, Maluku was joined by a Scot on their trip to visit family and friends living on the neighbouring island of Buru, one of the 17,000 islands at the eastern end of the Indonesian archipelago (Figure 1). The co-ordinating purpose of their three week journey round the island was to learn more about the wild pigs that lived there, and to find out about the very strange pig-like animal called babirusa (Babyrousa babyrussa). The team has already sent their findings to Geneva to help update the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Over five hundred years ago stories were being told to the early Portuguese explorers of these seas that on one of the islands there lived pigs with horns. Indeed, early Chinese traders, who also came to the region looking for nutmeg and clove spices, heard the same stories and retold them when they got home. Consequently, when the great encyclopaedias were being printed for the Chinese emperor, they contained artists’ illustrations of these travellers’ tales (Figure 2). Curiously, this year, the team found that similar stories were still being told. On different coastal parts of the island, people who had not travelled into the forests, but had heard from others that the mountain people knew of these animals, were telling ‘horned pig’ tales.

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July 2017
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