For the first time, swine have been observed (and recorded) making use of tools to make their lives easier. Tool usage, which has long been associated with intelligence, is a rare trait among animals. But modern-day observations are teaching us how unexpecting animal species may use tools to perform tasks more efficiently than they could without.
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Tool usage, which is a common trait in humans, has been witnessed in a plethora of intelligent animal species including chimpanzees and crows; but scientists have never before observed tool usage in swine, that is, until just recently. Researchers have officially published their findings in the journal Mammalian Biology.
From what we can gather, the researchers were studying an elusive and critically-endangered pig species known as the Visayan warty pig (Sus cebifrons) at a zoo in Paris when they noticed something peculiar: the animals were grabbing chunks of tree bark and/or twigs with their mouths and then using them to scoop and dig through the dirt and mud beneath them.
The curious researchers attempted to observe repetition in the pigs’ tool-using behavior by visiting the zoo several times over the course of multiple months, but they had no luck. At first, the researchers thought it may have been a fluke and that the pigs were just dorking around, but a closer look at the timing and behavior gave rise to a better theory: perhaps the pigs were carving out nesting places.
It’s well-known by field researchers that female Visayan warty pigs craft nests on a six-month timetable, and so the researchers put two and two together. They returned to the zoo when it was time for the pigs to build nests again, and perhaps unsurprisingly, they witnessed the intriguing tool-using behavior once more.
No one knows exactly why tool usage hasn’t been observed in swine before; after all, it’s not like there’s any shortage of pigs raised for slaughter or for domestic purposes. On the other hand, researchers have known for quite some time that the Visayan warty pig in particular sports above-average intelligence, and it’s quite possible that this species uses tools more frequently than its close relatives.
It’s becoming increasable evident that humans aren’t the only living creatures on Earth intelligent enough to take advantage of objects around them to make day-to-day activities easier. As in-depth animal observations continue in the foreseeable future, it seems highly plausible that scientists will learn of more animals that participate in tool usage, and it should be interesting to see what gets discovered next.