The Bahama Swimming Pigs Exploited For Tourists

Michelle Cehn March 22, 2016

An uninhabited Caribbean island, crystal clear waters with tropical fish swimming by, and an endless supply of treats from locals and visitors. Sounds like any pig’s dreamland, right?

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That’s what I thought when I stumbled upon photos of the swimming pigs on “Pig Island” and booked my honeymoon trip to the Bahamas. As a long-time lover of pigs, I thought that nothing in the world could top seeing pigs run free on their own island experiencing total liberation. I couldn’t wait.

But when my husband and I anchored our boat at pig beach, my excitement quickly faded as I had a sinking feeling that something wasn’t right. Really, a lot wasn’t right.

As I stepped off our little motor boat I was immediately greeted by a stampede of big hungry snouts desperate for food. I threw my open palms in the air signaling to them that I didn’t have any food on me, and they recognized that and quickly lost interest.

It was then that the babies came running over. “My goodness,” I thought. There were tons of them! 10, maybe 15 piglets. Clearly multiple litters. I kneeled down to greet them. They were so tiny—and dirty! They explored my hands, my shoes, my camera—everything—with their little snouts covered in sand. After recovering from the glee of fraternizing with little piglets in paradise, I started to notice the abrasions on their skin. I looked closer and saw that the skin on their snouts was peeling, and they had little scabs and marks on their tiny heads.
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I thought back to my visits to Farm Sanctuary, and recalled how the staff there would put sunblock on the pigs during the summer, because their pale skin is sensitive and can easily burn. I started to worry that all of these pigs were suffering from severe burns from being exposed to the strong Caribbean sunshine day after day.

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I spoke with Susie Coston, Farm Sanctuary’s National Shelter Director and the best pig expert I know, and asked her about how the prolonged sun exposure might be affecting the pigs. She said, “like anyone, too much sun is not good. They can get skin cancer and other illnesses and likely suffer for a long time without treatment.” She also reminded me that in nature, pigs coat themselves in mud as natural sun protectant, but on the sandy beach in the Caribbean, they don’t have access to mud.
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But it gets worse. Before I even arrived, I wondered what would happen when the pigs started overpopulating the infamous “Pig island,” since there were no predators around and the only limiting resource, I imagined, was food. It didn’t take long to find the answer to that. This clearly wasn’t a big, lush island that pigs inhabited. From what I saw during my week in the Exumas, all of the pigs were on the little sandy beach all of the time, because that’s where their food source was.25751B9200000578-2944893-Hoggy_paddle_Swimming_pigs_on_an_uninhabited_island_in_the_Baham-a-8_1423432748190

I counted them. There were maybe 20 or 25 pigs total, and most were babies, adolescents, or young mothers. “Where are all the other pigs?” I asked one tour guide who was boasting about how she named all the piglets, and comes every day to feed them pancakes or veggies. She mumbled something like, “oh, they must be in back.” In back of what? The rocky island, away from their food source? When I pressed further, she quickly changed the subject and no longer had any interest talking with me. Hmm…

Finally I got a more upfront answer from one of the locals who grew up on a neighboring island. With confidence, she said, “oh, they have to kill the pigs or there would be too many—especially when they get aggressive. They can be a danger to the tourists, so they have to go.” She swiped the edge of her hand against her throat as if her words weren’t clear enough. I pressed on, asking, “Wait, so the pigs on Pig Beach are killed?” She replied, “Yeah—but don’t worry, they roast them on a skewer and eat them, and nothing goes to waste. And no, we don’t serve them at the restaurant here—a lot of people ask that!” She giggled.
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My heart sank. The entire reason I chose this honeymoon destination was because I wanted to see pigs who had never been exploited, and who got to live out their entire lives in total freedom. Boy, was I naive.

The photos and videos I had seen online made it seem like pig paradise—no part of me imagined that Pig Island was a “managed” tourist attraction where the pigs were culled. But suddenly everything made sense. How else would the number of pigs on this little beach remain in check over the course of decades? I realized that this is an animal tourist attraction not a whole lot different from the orcas imprisoned at SeaWorld or the orangutans at a zoo. The pigs are collectively managed by the locals, and used for profit. Local guides, Caribbean boat tour companies, and nearby resorts are all profiting from travelers who would give anything—and pay anything—to swim and snap a selfie with the Bahamian pigs.087a1941822f28eb29b433b0de560146

If this doesn’t bother you, consider the safety of the tourists. While I was in the Caribbean for just one week, I heard several first-hand stories from tourists who were bitten by the pigs. One young man was bitten in the butt when he turned away from the pigs while holding food. And even I was bitten when one of the pigs lunged to grab something out of my hand, and accidentally caught my finger at the same time.25751D8200000578-2944893-All_the_pigs_have_to_worry_about_is_where_their_next_meal_is_com-a-18_1423432814911

I asked Susie from Farm Sanctuary about this, and what safety concerns people should be aware of when interacting with these hungry, feral-domestic hybrid pigs. She said, “Pig bites can be pretty serious. Pigs have strong jaws and can have a very crushing, bone breaking bite. They also often break skin. They can do serious damage.” Despite this, most of the tourists I saw there were not aware of any safety precautions they should take when interacting with the pigs. And the things I saw them do for the sake of a photo were cringeworthy. It’s amazing there are not already stories circling about serious injuries at Pig Island, but it’s only a matter of time. So even if you’re not concerned about the wellbeing of the pigs on this island, what about the thousands of tourists who come every year to snap a photo with the famous swimming pigs?145422-1413266115058

What’s Wrong With Pig Island (Big Major Cay)?145430-1413266112655

To sum it up, here are the problems I learned about during my time at Pig Beach:

The pigs are killed (to control the population)
The pigs can suffer from severe sunburn and skin cancer from spending their days in the blazing Caribbean sun without protection from mud or other forms of sunblock.
The pigs’ primary food source comes from locals and visiting tourists. The fact that they are so food-aggressive and that there is a lot of food competition among the pigs indicates that they are probably hungry.
The pigs don’t have adequate shelter from the sun, rain, and especially the harsh Caribbean storms.
The pigs are an unusual feral-domestic hybrid, and as such, they run right up to people, but are often aggressive and pose serious danger to visitors.
There is nobody looking out for the safety of tourists (unless, perhaps, they arrive with a tour company)
The pigs are constantly reproducing—there is no birth control.
Many of the piglets die (compare this to Farm Sanctuary, where they have never lost a piglet from a pregnant mother).
The swimming pigs are a major tourist attraction and many individuals and companies profit off of them.
Bottom line—the pigs are not living out long and free lives on this deserted island in the Bahamas. Sure, it’s better than a factory farm, but Pig Island is no paradise for the pigs.

Update: I’ve learned that there are now several islands in the Bahamas where individuals and tour companies have brought pigs to create additional swimming pig attractions. They all have different degrees of care and oversight.25751E9A00000578-2944893-Prized_pigs_Just_how_the_family_came_to_live_on_the_tiny_island_-a-13_1423432789153

Is Pig Island All Bad?

Of course it is worth noting that Pig Island has brought incredible positive press for pigs, showing that they are smart, curious, playful, lovable animals not unlike the dogs and cats we adore at home. Presumably these pigs have inspired countless people to leave pork of their plate—which is wonderful. But we don’t need to continue to spread a false story of happiness at the expense of these pigs—especially when there are pigs like Esther the Wonder Pig who is a real life example of a truly happy, healthy, beloved pig.

There are plenty of other reasons to visit the Caribbean—the beaches are beautiful, and you can enjoy activities like snorkeling, paddle boarding, island hopping, and even swimming near wild sharks. The locals are incredibly friendly and kind, and it’s really a beautiful place.

And there is a lot of good in the Bahamas. One Bahamian wrote in sharing the following:

The Bahamas recently outlawed the fishing of sea turtles and was declared a shark sanctuary, protecting sharks from commercial fishing. In 1958 The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park was the first national park of its kind to have both a land and sea component. The 176 square mile park is a ‘no-take’ park where nothing within its boundaries can be removed. Other beautiful, endangered animals like the Flamingo, the Bahama parrot and Rock iguanas are also fully protected and areas of their natural habitat have been set aside and declared as sanctuaries for them. These sanctuaries are The Bahamas National Parks. The parks are speckled throughout the islands and are open to the public so people may witness these animals in their natural habitat. You might have been in search of a pig sanctuary, but the whole time you were sailing past a world of sanctuaries waiting for you to discover them.25751C9200000578-2944893-Beach_Babe_The_pigs_are_thought_to_have_been_introduced_to_the_i-a-19_1423432819321

What Can You Do to Help the Swimming Pigs?

Despite all these problems, Pig Beach has seen a recent surge in popularity, with tourists visiting from all around the world. While I was there, there was a group who had traveled all the way from Japan to the Caribbean for just one day, just to see the pigs. That’s where you come in.145421-1413266115300

Please help spread the word to let people know that Pig Island is no paradise for the pigs, but rather a tourist attraction not a whole lot different from Sea World or the Zoo. Instead of planning a trip to visit the swimming pigs, plan a trip to an animal sanctuary like Farm Sanctuary or Animal Place! There are hundreds of sanctuaries all around the world where you can visit pigs, rub their bellies, and support liberation rather than exploitation.

We can also put pressure on the government, tour companies, and local resorts to do better. There is currently no oversight or transparency. We really need to act now to stop this problem from growing (spreading to more islands), and also urge the government and tour companies to at the very least neuter the pigs, provide sturdy shelter to protect them from the storms, and assign someone to look out for their care and well being (food, water, sun protection, veterinary care, etc).

 

 

28 thoughts on “The Bahama Swimming Pigs Exploited For Tourists

    • We’re the authors of the 5 Bahamas pigs pictures you have published on your blog/website. They’re copyrighted “Klein-Hubert/Media Drum”. I’m sorry but you’re not allowed to use these pictures in any way nor to share them. So please remove them asap. Thanks,
      Marie-Luce Hubert

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  1. Pingback: The Bahama Swimming Pigs Exploited For Tourists – Making Waves Outreach

  2. Ok so I’ve done this before and the pigs were brought to pig island yeaaaaars ago by a man so that he and his family had some sort of hidden food source because the country was debating war and in much conflict at the time. The island is very lush and green with tons of shelter and the pigs get fed every single day (all sorts of different foods from grapes to bread) and roam free on the island, better than being locked up in a small cage with minimal food and water huh?

    When the pigs are grown and too large for the island they are used for cultural pig roasts by the carribean people. Absolutely nothing wrong with this, they live a happy and interactive life while on the island. If you cannot live with the fact that the animals are used for cultural celebrations then sorry you shouldn’t have gone!

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    • When the pigs are too large they are killed for ‘food’ HA? How is this okay?! Go cuddle and see these cute pigs… then slaughter them for a quick eat… disgusting

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    • “better than being locked up in a small cage with minimal food and water huh?”
      So you’re comparing one with the other? How pointless. Hmmm…how about we not use the pigs for our entertainment OR on factory farms and let them live as nature intended…not as humans with a motive intended.

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      • While I’m not pleased with the lack of safety and the exploitation of the pigs by the tourist companies, how is it worse that they get killed for food instead of starving to death due to overpopulation?

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    • Pigs are being slaughter daily in farm factories, slaughter houses or whatever. How is this any different from this!? Same thing. I bet you like bacon. Well that’s a killed pig. Now I wouldn’t want to go to. Each and swim with pigs. But hey what harm is it doing!? Better than a slaughter house!

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    • Jess,

      I agree with you. When I was reading this article, I couldn’t help but laugh. Like, you really thought that this pig island was a NATURAL thing, and that they weren’t EXPLOITED. I was like how dumb can you be, anytime you go somewhere and animals are part of the attraction, most than likely someone is managing the animals, and getting a pay cut. I don’t go to circus or zoos because animals should be free in their natural habitat. BUT, some animals will be eaten POINT BLANK PERIOD. people kill me with that, and don’t comment saying what about dogs!!!!! People are over sensitive for no damn reason!!!!

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  3. Hi I’m hoping to get in contact with the author of this article. I live near one of the swimming pig islands and am in need of help.

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    • Srsly? The environment is bad for the pigs Another example of man screwing up things up by transporting these pigs to an unnatural environment for them. Their skin is very sensitive and the Caribbean sun burns them and their babies. Pigs need mud for healthy skin, mud is not available to them here. Also there is no natural food source for them.

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      • I am against animal exploitation. Should be relatively easy to install a mud pit there, no? Why not contact the owner and suggest this as low cost self-service sun protection? Then educate the owners on the health problems of eating animal products. I do not like the idea of birth control… i leave animals alone

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  4. Michelle is right though Alafair. I don’t think his/her intention was to downplay the pig welfare aspect but to highlight that pigs do not belong on that island at all. Because of both reasons! The pigs significantly add to algae blooms/plant degradation and the poor pigs can’t manage to get enough to eat or shade to rest. Both reasons are important for shutting these places down.

    Also I am a wildlife conservationist/animal behaviorist and I run a blog highlighting both ethical and unethical wildlife encounters. Would love to feature your post! But I just have to ask you why you lump zoos in general in this post?

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    • Christina the reason i am opposed to zoos is that anytime a business uses animals as their product, the animals are not safe, there is so much potential for them to be abused, exploited, and zoos fit that bill.
      Sanctuary yes, Zoos no. If you care about animals do what is best for them, zoos are not.

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  5. Thank you for all this great information. I stand corrected and at first I thought this would be a wonderful thing to do. Its NOT…!!!! Any animal not receiving proper food, care and shelter is wrong. Its abuse!!! I’m sad to read all of this and pray they change their ways!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think the punishment for what happens to animals is getting out of hand. What I think is we need to figure out something without any rash decisions.

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  7. Being Bahamian , I’ve heard of these pigs. They are supposedly wild and swim from cay to cay. The story is that pigs were left by pirates to have food upon return. Paradise Island in Nassau was also called Pig Island. Doubt there was sunblock back then.

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  8. I’ve heard of these pigs. They are supposedly wild and swim from sandbank to sandbank. The story is that pigs were left by pirates to have food upon return. It’s not a recent concoction for marketing. Paradise Island in Nassau was also called Hog Island. Gee, I wonder why. Doubt there was sunblock back then.

    It’s amazing Florida pigs haven’t overpopulated since later colonials either know it all. Adapting to the environment has probably made them better swimmers. They’ve become an attraction regardless because of this unusual hybrid.

    It wasn’t a big lush island because it’s a cay. I bet your doghouse or pig pen ( or house for that matter) is smaller.

    They’re dirty because they’re wild, and being wild is probably why they BIT you (or maybe you should have had meat for their time). Sorry if that means you have no one to sue. If a whale knocks your boat over whilst whale watching , can’t really blame the tour guide (Please share that with ‘The Bachelor’ who seemed to have a hissy fit with the ministry of tourism over the pigs being plain animals during recording and ruining the date). Maybe read up on what to expect when interacting because perhaps IGNORANCE is what poses the most danger http://floridahikes.com/worried-about-feral-hogs. Looks like you wouldn’t have the desired class action lawsuit in Florida either as this source explains people have not reported being bitten.

    Stingrays also stay around where tourists tend to feed them. When are pigs not greedy pigs? No one monitors the strays that tourist feed either.

    So when visitors go on safaris in Africa where the tribe eats some of the game, is that different? #NoEcoli
    With all the other random visitors we get living in the bush, the beach is better for them than griot.

    The worker wasn’t going to tell you where the rest were so that you can steal them for your monetized “sanctuary FARM” vegan push.
    FREE and WILD , unlike a farm, also teaches swimming.

    Are you a zooarcheologist or evolutionary biologist? Bring in a DNA test before you’re the one lying! And I bet snakes can’t be silver..There’s actually a number of interesting adaptations recorded in evolutionary studies done there. Even if the pigs were turned loose , they are clearly a feral species.

    Seems like envy of travelers from around the world is where the shade “comes in”.

    I don’t think Exuma has much vegan to offer by the way, and worrying about an absence of predators to control the population actually contradicts being vegan. Good thing somebody’s eating them then right?

    Don’t discover egg island that belongs to wild chickens which don’t get groomed at the spa every weekend. They must be on steroids with the amount of eggs they lay covering the whole cay.

    It’s really unprofessional to initiate a campaign against all pig spotting based on broad speculation. The most obvious clue that you are competition is that , as an expert, you offered no advising for “better” care. You’re clearly not an expert on animal welfare if you had to call your last job so one can only wonder about your rescued pigs. It’s not like improvements through discussion can’t be easily achieved if that was really the issue. Sounds more like they didn’t want to sell or partner with your exploitation. As your site states, “In an ideal world, there would be no need for Farm Sanctuary as it exists today”.

    Looks like Exuma pigs have ideal.

    Some facts:
    US wild hogs are descendants of animals that came ashore with colonists and conquerors. Pigs were first introduced into southern coastal areas by Spanish explorers during New World exploration/exploitation. The population and distribution of feral pigs has increased to 23 states and they especially cause problems in southern states where milder temperatures encourage larger herds that grow more quickly. Feral pigs today are most plentiful in the coastal states along the Gulf of Mexico, California and along the Eastern Seaboard north through the Virginias. Many are descendants and hybrids of Russian wild boars originally introduced for hunting. Through each successive generation, domestic characteristics have diminished and the animals have developed traits necessary to survive in wild environments.
    http://dnr.wi.gov/wnrmag/html/stories/2005/aug05/hogs.htm

    Starving pigs show ribcages
    http://dnr.wi.gov/wnrmag/html/stories/2005/aug05/hogs.htm

    Approximately how many piglets does a sow have in a litter?
    https://www.reference.com/pets-animals/approximately-many-piglets-sow-litter-b3689b3502106ce3

    Why a private island may be best. Bahamas has lots of islets for rent.
    http://feralhogs.tamu.edu/files/2010/05/RecognizingFeralHogSign.pdf

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  9. I’m sorry, but you have misinformed about the exuma pigs. The island is privately owned and is a Comercial pig farm. The owner allows tour companies to visit in exchange for daily feeding and watering the pigs. Their diet is varied with both protein products and produce. Exuma Water Tours for one even visits the island during hurricanes to ensure the animals’ safety. Being a commercial farm, pigs are slaughtered by the owner for personal use and sale. No animals are euthanized to control population. Visitors to the island without a guide are actually trespassing on private land and are not welcome. Please get the facts straight before you post.

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