It is a tough life for animals like pigs, who are far more intelligent than given credit for, reviews GLYNNE ANDERSON
All animals are sentient beings, which means they experience pain and have emotions in much the same way as humans do. Most of us who live closely with a companion animal accept this without question and acknowledge the superior intelligence of these so-called dumb animals. Many of us can tell a tale or two illustrating just how smart our pets really are - like the little dog who saved his sick owner's life by calling a neighbour for help or the Labrador that jumped into the water and rescued a drowning child. Most will agree that our companion animal's intelligence is legendary.
But how many of us know, or are prepared to acknowledge, that our long-suffering production animals are just as intelligent and emotional? These lowly creatures are often deprived of a natural life, raised under artificial conditions and kept cramped, filthy and hungry. They are then slaughtered when it is cost effective to do so.
For some obscure reason, many people are under the impression that sheep, goats, pigs, cattle and poultry are immune to feelings of any kind, in spite of the fact that they bleed, limp, cry and love in much the same way that we do. If you've ever heard a ewe frantic to find her lost lamb or seen the terror in the eyes of cattle on their way to the abattoir, you'll know the intensity with which these condemned souls experience life.
There are those who choose to keep these "edible animals" as pets and who will testify to their amazing personalities and intelligence. If given a chance, these hapless creatures will successfully raise their offspring, discipline and educate them and do everything we do as good parents and good citizens. So what sets them apart? Well, for one, they don't have a voice.
So, today I'm putting a spotlight on the most maligned and, arguably, the most tortured and frequently eaten animal of all - the humble pig. Demonised by some religions, scorned by others, and called dirty, filthy, fat and greedy, the tender-hearted porker truly has a hard-luck story to tell.
You see, everything we thought we knew about this staunch, chubby fellow is a myth. For a start, pigs are not dirty by choice. In fact, they are fastidious, squeaky clean beings that are easily house-trained and wouldn't dream of piddling on your Persian rug or poohing on the patio. Their reputation for poor hygiene is due to uncaring keepers who imprison them in small confined pens or paddocks that quickly become mud baths because of poor drainage and non-existent toilet facilities.
Omnivores by nature, pigs will eat almost anything, although they appear to have a sweet tooth and, if given a choice, avoid sharp-tasting foods such as pineapple and onion. The inappropriate swill that is usually chucked at them is nothing short of an insult to their sensitivities, but they will eat waste in an effort to satisfy their appetites. If allowed to fend for themselves, as nature intended, they would be fitter, slimmer and healthier.
Pigs are family oriented souls and when placed in a natural environment they live in small, close groups known as spinders. By nature they are extremely affectionate and demonstrative to those they know and trust, often nuzzling up to their beloveds in shows of tenderness.
Their occupation of choice is foraging over distances in order to provide for their piglets. The exercise they get during these expeditions keeps their large frames in optimum condition. Nowadays, greedy farmers grow their "commodities" as rapidly as possible, confining them to sties and depriving them of fit bodies and natural good health.
Sows make excellent mothers and seldom lose a baby. However, in the "fast-food" industry, space is money and mothers are squeezed into inadequate pens where often the little ones get unavoidably squashed. Hence, they are often put into horrific farrowing crates, which are a violation of any new mother's parental rights.
The pig's official language is Piglish, which consists of a wide and wonderful range of grunts that indicate pleasure, shrieks that signify fear and clucking noises that demonstrate annoyance. Of course, there are all those secret little nuances in-between. Piglets probably have the best set of lungs in the world as their danger squeals can almost be heard across continents.
A pig's average life span is about the same as the domestic dog and it has been proved to be just as smart as our four-legged mutts. Pigs learn tricks and games very quickly and, due to their superior intelligence and excellent sense of smell, are used to detect land mines in war-torn countries.
But the pig's most endearing quality by far is its passion for life.
Dr Lesley Lunn of Gauteng SPCA said: "There is so much we can learn from them. When they eat, they eat with lip-smacking relish; when they sleep, they sleep the deep, still sleep of the guiltless; when they play, they play with the gleeful abandon of children unexpectedly let out of school; when they scream, they scream the soundtrack of a hundred horror movies; when they love, they love with all the passion of their innocent little hearts and they mourn their dead with unbelievable grief.
"Yet we have an entire industry devoted to turning pigs into food - treating them in a manner which denies their sentiency, let alone their sensitivity."
So, the next time you are eating breakfast or braaing chops on the fire, please spare a thought for the Babes in this world, together with all the other voiceless creatures, both great and small, who, at the very least, deserve to be treated with kindness, respect and dignity.
- Recommended reading: The Whole Hog: Exploring the Extraordinary Potential of Pigs by Lyall Watson.
- Glynne Anderson is a pet behaviour consultant and professional dog handler who has appeared on radio and TV to talk about animals and their problems. She can be contacted at email@example.com or by phoning 031 765 1958.