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There’s a babirusa under my 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.

First observed by father Bernadino Ferrari in 1584, this strange animal was more accurately described as a white coloured pig with two tusks sticking straight up out of its snout like large nails. Strangely, almost nothing more about its biology has been published since then. What might the local people who had seen it know about it; what could they tell the team? We requested the advice of an old man living high up in the mountains in the remote village called Mngeswaen. He smiled, chuckled, and in the language of Buru’s more northern interior started speaking gently, “Betu dupan, betu bala …” [Long ago, in days of yore… or… Once upon a time …].

Described as a white coloured pig with two tusks sticking straight up out of its snout like large nails

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About iScot Magazine

July iScot Edition 2017 Scot June 2017 issue - the one with The signpst indicating left for IndyRef and right for - we're all going to die 116 jam packed pages of the best craic in Scotland from the only truly independent pro Scottish magazine, and if you chose not to buy this we're coming round to your house with big Louie and the lads - you've been warned!