Oink, oink, squeeee. Thousands of pigs grunt and shriek across Puerto Rico. Island officials struggle to control the porky pests. Residents fear the pigs are unstoppable.
Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs have wrinkly black skin, short legs, sway backs, and bulging (you guessed it) bellies. Well before one year old, a female can give birth to up to 10 piglets at a time.
Pigs are not native to Puerto Rico—even though roast pig is a storied island delicacy.
About five years ago, Puerto Ricans began buying pet pot-bellied pigs as pets. Few knew the swine grew to weigh 250 pounds or more! After Hurricane Maria struck in September 2017, some pigs escaped. Others were set free by owners. The swine multiplied. Some estimates say thousands of pot-bellied pigs now roam the island.
In their native Vietnam, pot-bellies symbolize happiness and wealth. But in Puerto Rico, they plunder gardens, bowl over trashcans, and leave stinky dung trails.
Puerto Rico’s health officials try to manage the pigs. But with no natural predators and an appetite for anything, control is difficult. The swine can’t even be killed for food because they carry many diseases. Dirty habits are one reason Bible scholars believe God called pigs unclean. (Leviticus 11:7-8)
One afternoon in the capital city San Juan, pigs rummaged through garbage and mingled with roosters and dogs. Broken glass clinked beneath tiny hooves as piglets scurried about; large, surly sows stood their ground despite nearby cars.
“When they’re small, they look real cute,” admits Valerie Figueroa. She says it’s hard to make people understand how much trouble the pigs cause.
The problem goes beyond stench and scattered trash. Figueroa’s aunt tripped when a pig chased her. The animal bit her on the knee, causing a need for surgery.
Jesús Laracuente says pigs invade his vegetable garden. “All I have left is three little plantain trees,” he laments.
Luis Meléndez says a swine herd inhabits a nearby park. “They squeal all the time,” he moans, adding that they don’t let him sleep. “They’re a disaster.”
Scientists are trying to trap the pigs. Then they take the swine to a facility and slaughter them.
Animal rights groups object. They want to relocate the pigs safely. But there’s no place to house thousands of voracious porkers.
Gustavo Olivieri is a U.S. Department of Agriculture supervisor in the Caribbean. “There were way more animals than we anticipated,” he says. It may take years to rid Puerto Rico of the newly invasive pigs.
Meanwhile, weary Puerto Ricans wait for the piggies to head to market, stay home, eat roast beef—anything but cry “wee, wee, wee” all over the island.