Bearded pig (Sus barbatus)

Also known as: Western bearded pig
French: Sanglier À Barbe
GenusSus (1)
SizeHead-body length: 122 - 152 cm (2)
Tail length: 20 - 30 cm (3)
Weight57 - 83 kg (2)

The bearded pig is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The bearded pig (Sus barbatus) is named for its distinctive beard of yellowy-white whiskers, which grow from its elongated, narrow jaw (3) (4). The body of the bearded pig is slender, grey or brown and comparatively hairless. The tail ends in two tufts and the legs are long and thin (3) (4) (5). Male bearded pigs are slightly bigger than females and have two pairs of small facial warts (6) (7).

Currently, two subspecies of the bearded pig are recognised: Sus barbatus barbatus and Sus barbatus oi (6) (8). The two are distinguished by their beards. S. b. oi has a short, bristly beard around the snout, whereas S. b. barbatus has long whiskers which grow along the length of the cheeks (6). Until recently, Sus ahoenobarbus (the Palawan bearded pig) was also considered a subspecies of the bearded pig, but it is now considered a species in its own right (6) (8).

When excited, the bearded pig may emit a loud bark (2).

Historically widespread across the Malay Peninsula of South East Asia, each subspecies of bearded pig is now confined to its own distinct range. S. b. barbatus is most abundant in Borneo, where it is the only native wild pig (6), but small populations also occur on nearby islands in the Sulu Archipelago, in the Philippines (1) (4). S. b. oi is found in West Malaysia, Sumatra, Bangka and the Riau Islands (4).

The bearded pig primarily inhabits tropical evergreen rainforest but can also be found on beaches, in montane regions and in mangroves (1) (4).

The bearded pig consumes a wide array of food types, including the fruits, seeds and roots of oak, chestnut and dipterocarp trees, earthworms, small vertebrates, turtle eggs and carrion (4). On one occasion, a bearded pig was observed feasting on a freshly killed Borneo blood python (Python curtus) (2). The bearded pig often follows troupes of monkeys, taking advantage of the discarded fruit that is thrown to the ground, and in turn is followed by pheasants, which forage on the ground disturbed by the pigs (2) (4).

The bearded pig is the only pig species to undertake an annual migration. The motive for this yearly movement is not yet understood, but is believed to be associated with the search for food (4), such as the fruits of the camphor tree (Dryobalanops aromatica) (1) (4).

The bearded pig lives in large matriarchal herds containing up to 200 individuals (1). Adult males only join the herd to mate. Mating coincides with the flowering and fruiting of forest trees (9). Falling petals may even act as a visual stimulus for mating, signalling the availability of essential nutrition to sustain the energy required for pregnancy and lactation (1).

Following a gestation period of 90 to 120 days, female bearded pigs leave the herd to give birth in large nests constructed from twigs and vegetation (1). The average litter contains 7 or 8 piglets, but may be between 4 and 11 (1). The piglets are born with a stripy coat which serves as camouflage from predators, such as river crocodiles and clouded leopards (2). The offspring remain with their mother for up to a year before reaching sexual maturity between 10 to 20 months (1).

The main threats to the bearded pig are habitat loss and degradation caused by deforestation and logging (4). The bearded pig is a primary source of protein for local communities and has been hunted sustainably for thousands of years (4). However, habitat loss, and the consequential reduction in food availability (9), has shrunk bearded pig populations to a size that can no longer sustain traditional hunting (5).

The wild boar (Sus scrofa), which inhabits the same area as the bearded pig, is better adapted to human-modified landscapes and there is concern that it may displace the bearded pig if logging and deforestation intensify (1) (4).

In the face of extensive habitat destruction and degradation, reserves remain an important refuge for the bearded pig. In Malaysia, Taman Negara National Park could sustain a large population, but it is not clear whether the species still persists there. It does occur in Endau-Rompin National Park in southern Peninsular Malaysia and Kerinci-Seblat National Park in Sumatra, and is also likely to occur in other protected areas (1) (4).

The Protection of Wildlife Act (1972) prohibits the hunting of bearded pigs without a licence in Peninsular Malaysia, and Section 33 of the Sarawak Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998 prohibits the trade of wild meat. Yet with the species’ numbers rapidly declining, it has been recommended that hunting is regulated and forests are managed to prevent further habitat loss (4).

Learn more about the bearded pig:

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  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2010)
  2. Matsuda, I. and Tuuga, A. (2009) Bearded pig (Sus barbatus) predation on Borneo blood python (Python curtus) in the lower Kinabatangan, northern Borneo. Suiform Soundings, 9: 15-17.
  3. Prothero, D.R. and Schoch, R.M. (2002) Horns, tusks, and flippers: the evolution of hoofed mammals. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  4. Caldecott, J.O., Blouch, R.A. and Macdonald, A.A. (1993) The bearded pig (Sus barbatus). In: Oliver, W.L.R. (Ed.) Pigs, Peccaries and Hippos: Status Survey and Action Plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland.
  5. Setyawati, T., Read, S. and Coulson, G. (2005) A preliminary survey of bearded pig (Sus barbatus) in Malinau river forest, Bulungan, East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Suiform Soundings, 5(1): 31.
  6. Groves, C.P. (2001) Taxonomy of wild pigs of Southeast Asia. IUCN/SSC Pigs, Peccaries and Hippos Specialist Group (PPHSG) Suiform Soundings, 1(1): 3.
  7. Nowak, R.M. (1999) Walker's Mammals of the World. 6th Edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  8. Lucchini, V., Meijaard, E., Diong, C.H., Groves, C.P. and Randi, E. (2005) New phylogenetic perspectives among species of South-east Asian wild pig (Sus sp.) based on mtDNA sequences and morphometric data. Journal of Zoology, 266: 25-35.
  9. Wong, S.T., Servheen, C., Ambu, L. and Norhayati, A. (2005) Impacts of fruit production cycles on Malayan sun bears and bearded pigs in lowland tropical forest of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 21: 627-639.