Can you imagine a pig handling a tool? A research team was surprised at what the animals are capable of.
Paris – We humans use tools with our hands as a matter of course. Monkeys do it too, even dolphins can use tools to their advantage. However, such abilities were previously unknown in pigs. Researchers were all the more astonished when they became aware of it in a Paris zoo. As reported by National Geographicecologist Meredith Root-Bernstein observed a family of pigs when one of the animals suddenly grabbed a piece of wood in its mouth and began shoving dirt around.
“Wow, that’s pretty cool,” the scientist said when she noticed the behavior in October 2015. “When I looked up tool use in pigs, there was nothing there.” That was where the research gap was found. Over the next few months, Meredith Root-Bernstein returned to the pigs again and again – but to no avail. The pigs, which belong to the rare species of Visayas pustules, stopped using the tools. Their hypothesis: the behavior of the pigs must have something to do with nest building when piglets are expected. That happens every six months.
Pigs use tools to build nests
Lo and behold: half a year later, three out of four pigs used the tool to complete their nest, more precisely their hole in the ground filled with leaves. From then on, Root-Bernstein and her team observed the pigs at the appropriate time and filmed them. There were four cases on tape in 2016 and seven in 2017. The researchers added four spatulas to the pigs’ toolbox, assuming the animals might prefer easy-to-handle objects. However, only one spatula was used – twice in total.
The team takes on the basis of observations published in a study assume that the sow Priscilla taught herself the use of tools and passed them on to her descendants. This is not surprising, since pigs are considered intelligent. But why had this behavior gone unnoticed so far? Root-Bernstein estimates that the animals are generally understudied. Because many species of wild pigs are threatened with extinction.
According to the researcher, tool use is particularly exciting to research because it is a characteristic that animals share with humans. A common evolutionary history can also be illuminated in this way. Root-Bernstein summarizes: “It brings us closer to animals and helps us to understand that everything is connected.” (Ines Alberti)
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