Here's What Really Killed the Swimming Pigs of Exuma, and It Wasn't Alcohol

Posted by Mateja Lane
swimming pigs

Although there was much hype that the swimming pigs of Exuma were killed by reckless tourists, that wasn't the case.

Last week, sad news circled the globe as Bahamians and tourists alike mourned the loss of approximately 10 swimming pigs that call the islands of Exuma home.

The pigs have become a tourist sensation as they swim out from the island shores, paddling along in crystal-green tropical water. Visitors often feed them and love to take pictures with the friendly swine.

So when the pigs turned up dead on the shore, foreign food was the first culprit. Initial stories also claimed that the pigs died of alcohol poisoning. That was not the case even though people have been seen feeding the pigs alcohol. Wayde Nixon, one of the guardians of the pigs, told the Nassau Guardian that alcohol was to blame in the pigs' death.

"[Tourism] is blowing out of proportion," he says. "Anybody [can bring] food there .... We have people giving the pigs beer, rum ... all kinds of stuff."

It has since been confirmed that the pigs died of something much less nefarious, and by a substance that they are naturally surrounded with: sand.

Veterinarians who have dissected and examined the bodies of the dead pigs have found large quantities of sand in their intestines, which can prove fatal. Though the reason that the pigs might have recently consumed more sand than normal may in part be the tourists' fault.

Humane Society inspector Ventoi Bethune told National Geographic:

"The pigs have been on the island so long, they are used to foraging for natural food. Now [the pigs] stay on the beach and aren't living in the forest."

What this essentially means is that the pigs now come to the beach to forage for the treats that the influx of tourists throw for them. Since they are digging in the sand for the food, they are inadvertently consuming large amounts of sand which has proven impossible for their digestive systems to handle.

The decline of fresh water sources on the island may also prove to be detrimental to the swimming pigs.

"We found their natural source of water had dried up, so there wasn't much fresh water on their island to drink," Bethune says. "We believe it's a combination of factors that lead to the death of the pigs."

Who you calling big ears ?. ?: @photography_ericgarciamarch

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What the pigs' deaths do prove is that the Bahaman Islands of Exuma need to lay out clearer ground rules for tourists visiting the beaches. There are no current laws protecting the swimming pigs and the Bahamian government aims to change that.

The Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources, V. Alfred Gray said in a statement:

"If we have boundary lines, people will be able to take photographs and see the pigs swim, but they will not be able to feed them things."

There are many theories on how the pigs came to live and thrive on the Bahamian Islands of Exuma. They may have been marooned with other livestock in a shipwreck during colonial visits to the area. There have also been claims that people brought the pigs to the islands to start a farm but the attempts were not successful.

Regardless of their origin, the swimming pigs of Exuma have been a popular tourist attraction that brings thousands of visitors each year. While wildlife experts tend to regard wildlife tourism as dangerous for the animals, local Bahamians want people to continue visiting the pigs.

"The pigs themselves have been such a lifeblood for the community. Everyone in the community would still like people to come visit. There's almost no place you can go to find pigs swimming in the water," Bethune concluded.

What do you think of the swimming pigs of Exuma? Have you visited them? Tell us in the comments below.

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Here's What Really Killed the Swimming Pigs of Exuma, and It Wasn't Alcohol