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Aww: North Sulawesi babirusa piglets on display at San Diego Zoo

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Posted at 5:40 PM, Sep 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-21 20:40:16-04

The first North Sulawesi babirusa piglets to be born at the San Diego Zoo are now on display.

The piglets were born to first-time mother Fig on Sept. 6, leading handlers to call them "figlets."

The name babirusa means "pig deer" in Malay and refers to the animals' mixed appearance, with slim, deer-like limbs, and a stocky pig body and snout.

"They're starting to come out of their barn more with their mom and we're seeing a lot of fun interaction with them running through her legs," said senior animal keeper Victoria Girdler. "When we see her sleeping sometimes they're laying on top of her, and just getting in her way when she's trying to eat, and they're really having fun interactions together."

Girdler said 3-year-old Fig is protective of her piglets but has always been comfortable with her handlers and is understanding of them being inside the exhibit. She said she hopes such interactions help the piglets become close with the keepers, too.

The sex of the offspring has not been determined. They nurse multiple times a day and sample solid food.

Girdler said as the piglets grow and develop, they will be reintroduced to their father, Jethro, at 3 to 4 months of age.

Zoo officials said the pigs are part of the largest of the three babirusa subspecies endemic to the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia. They inhabit tropical rain forests and thrive on the banks of rivers and swamps, but their
exact range is unknown.

The species was once thought to be stable, but a long history of hunting, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and commercial logging has caused their population to decline by more than 30 percent in the last 18 years. Three-fourths of their lowland forest habitat has been destroyed due to commercial logging, and babirusa have disappeared from sections of the island.

They are categorized as "vulnerable" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, but current threats to their survival in the wild may be more severe than previous assessments indicate.

Visitors to the San Diego Zoo can see the new babirusa "figlets" on the forested Tiger Trail walkway from 9 to 11:30 a.m. daily.