What Pigs Taught Me About Being Human - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Sydney Ross Singer

Sydney Ross Singer is a medical anthropologist, environmentalist, author, and director of the Good Shepherd Foundation. He lives on a rain forest preserve on the Puna coast of Hawaii Island with his family and other invasive species.

Each morning I have the same dread. How much damage did the pigs do last night?

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Here in lower Puna, near the southeast shore of the Big Island of Hawaii, pigs outnumber humans. Sometimes, you can’t help but feel like you’re intruding into their space.

And the pigs probably feel the same way. Pigs are intelligent animals, considered the smartest of the farm animals. And these pigs are also feral, so they are savvy to the fact that we humans are out to eat them.

You have to give them credit, too. Despite the constant threat of attack by hunters and dogs, pigs manage to survive. That’s good for the pigs, but a pain for people who don’t want their lawns dug up.

Pigs have this thing about plowing up fields. That is a fine quality if you are a farmer without a plow. But if you are a homeowner with a nice field and orchard, it’s a problem.

Of course, people who eat pigs will have no problem ending this problem with a bang. And that’s when I realized something important about human nature.

At one moment, people can be kind, loving, and empathic, and at the next, they can be psychopaths. Let me explain.

When I first began living with the pigs, I found it easy to feel love and empathy for them. The pigs in Hawaii are not aggressive, and run away if you threaten them. Being feral and not fully wild, their past domestication shows in their willingness to be near humans.

However, a problem for pigs is that humans bring dogs.

A pig farm in Waianae. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat/2018

The history of man’s relationship with dogs is long and deep, and I love dogs. But I never understood the human-canine relationship until I witnessed the carnage of a pack attacking a pig. It is a reminder that dogs are more than love-objects for people. They are also warriors, willing to help us hunt, fight, and kill.

Dogs get rid of pigs, one way or another. Unless the pig gets rid of the dog, which can happen from pig tusks.

But when there are no dogs, you can finally get to know the pigs. We have been dog-less for over a year, and the pigs are now able to roam and be themselves without as much fear.

Pigs can be playful and very happy. All it takes is plenty of wild avocados, guavas, and lilikoi, and a nice mud hole. They need the mud to help with parasites on their skin. It probably also soothes the itching from fire ant bites, which must plague them. Some pigs have cloudy eyes, like many dogs and cats do, from the little fire ants infesting this part of the island.

But to make their mud baths, they need to remove the lawn. And there’s the rub.

We love our lawns. It’s our tidy world, created from the chaos of the jungle, and here the pigs are destroying it. Sure, we already destroyed the natural environment to make that field. But it was our field, not the pig’s.

Get Dogs? Shoot Pigs?

So what do you do? On the one hand, there is a family of pigs frolicking in your field, living their simple piggy lives, trying to find food underneath your lawn and a place to rub and soothe their itching bodies. The pigs are peaceful, clearly have relationships with one another, and seem to be emotional, which you hear in their grunts, barks, and contented chewing sounds. They are the “people” of the forest, part of Hawaii’s wildlife that deserves respect.

On the other hand, you have your little world which they are plowing up. They are a force of chaos that challenges your desired order.

For people who have no empathy for pigs, there is no issue here. Get some dogs, or shoot the pig. Eat your problems away and save your lawn. Period.

For those who want peace with pigs and are willing to share their space with other animals, you need to rethink your lawn. Do you really need all that grass?

And your answer will likely be, yes, I need all that grass. The problem is that when we give space for the pigs, they make it a pig space.

Co-existing with others is a problem for us humans. Sharing is hard, since it requires compromise and a willingness to give in on some of the things you want. It’s no easier when you’re sharing with a pig. I mean, with lots of pigs, who reproduce like crazy.

And that’s when human nature kicks in. It seems that when push comes to shove, people are willing to shoot to kill. Empathy goes out the window when we get annoyed and angry. Suddenly, that cute little piggy is a pain that you can shoot dead, and eat.

Here in lower Puna pigs outnumber humans.

We can go from hot to cold in a moment. People can love you one minute, and hate you the next. We can marry in love, and later divorce in hate. We can build a city of light, and darken it overnight with war.

There’s little hope for the little pigs that know nothing about human nature. We will feed them one minute, and shoot them the next. And if they mess with the lawn, we will mow them down.

It seems harsh, but we have lots in common with our dogs. We, too, are predators. Sharing the world with animals, especially ones weaker than ourselves, is difficult. Violence is often the first solution we take when annoyed by animals, especially if we can eat them afterwards. But we have the ability, as humans, to rise above our innate brutality.

The same penchant for violence is on display in how we deal with one another. Hate, racism, and bigotry access the same lizard-brain circuitry as shooting pigs that are digging up your lawn. We can do better than this, and must.

All I am saying is, give pigs a chance.

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About the Author

Sydney Ross Singer

Sydney Ross Singer is a medical anthropologist, environmentalist, author, and director of the Good Shepherd Foundation. He lives on a rain forest preserve on the Puna coast of Hawaii Island with his family and other invasive species.

Latest Comments (0)

"co-existing with others is a problem for us humans"...."and that's where human nature kicks in". Exactly. And to those who believe in the humans at the top of the hierarchy philosophy, human nature is animal nature. It's a dog-kill-pig world, except we humans are aided by ridiculous technology that can and does exterminate trillions of sentient creatures every, single, year. If you subscribe to this worldview, and most humans tacitly do, because it is the worldview of the conquering Europeans, then it's hard to have faith in humanity to solve our own self-inflicted problems of climate change, biodiversity loss, etc. After all, humans are just another animal, and animals without predators and an ample food supply will over-run their environment and cause their own collapse.

luckyd · 1 year ago

Trap, neuter, return works great with pigs. Unfortunately, the local hunters went ballistic because they relied on the pigs, not to feed their families (as if Safeway wasn't satisfactory), but for auto parts, beer, and meth addictions, often torturing the pigs as a way to vent their own anger and sadness for the powerlessness they felt in their own lives, as well as for the brutality and cruelty committed against them when they were younger. In some cities when there is a report of animal abuse and the animal control finds children in the house they are required to call child protection agencies because the violence is never restricted solely to the animals.We need to not only give pigs a chance we need to give peace a chance - starting with the person in the mirror every morning, and especially with the children in the world.

Frank_DeGiacomo · 1 year ago

This essay overlooks one huge fact: Feral pigs are not just destructive to lawns; they are extremely destructive to hundreds of species: plants, animals, birds, etc. See UH Manoa research on this subject.

David_Johnson · 1 year ago

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