Posts Tagged ‘pig’

Photo: Candace Croney.
Pigs can play video games, scientists have found. Here, the pig Ebony operates a joystick.

In the same way that most of us are just beginning to understand the deep wisdom of indigenous tribes, we have barely scratched the surface of what animals can do. Fortunately, scientists never stop investigating.

BBC News reports, “Four pigs — Hamlet, Omelette, Ebony and Ivory — were trained to use an arcade-style joystick to steer an on-screen cursor into walls.

“Researchers said the fact that the pigs understood the connection between the stick and the game ‘is no small feat.’ And the pigs even continued playing when the food reward dispenser broke — apparently for the social contact.

“Usually, the pigs would be given a food pellet for ‘winning’ the game level. But during testing, it broke — and they kept clearing the game levels when encouraged by some of the researchers’ kind words. …

“The research team also thought that the fact the pigs could play video games at all — since they are far-sighted animals with no hands or thumbs – was -remarkable.’

“But it was not easy for them. Out of the two Yorkshire pigs, Hamlet, was better at the game than Omelette, but both struggled when it got harder — hitting the single target just under half the time. The Panepinto micro pigs had a bigger gamer skill gap — while Ivory was able to hit one-wall targets 76% of the time, Ebony could only do it 34% of the time.

“But the researchers were still satisfied that the attempts were deliberate and focused, rather than random — what they called ‘above chance.’ That means that ‘to some extent, all acquired the association between the joystick and cursor movement.’

“Kate Daniels, from Willow Farm in Worcestershire, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that while the scientists might have been impressed, ‘I don’t think this will come as a surprise to anyone that works with pigs. … They’re not playing Minecraft — but that they can manipulate a situation to get a reward is no surprise at all.’ ” More at the BBC, here.

The research paper was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

For more on the intelligence of pigs, check out naturalist Sy Montgomery’s book The Good Good Pig.

Montgomery’s website says in part, “The Good Good Pig celebrates Christopher Hogwood in all his glory, from his inauspicious infancy to hog heaven in rural New Hampshire, where his boundless zest for life and his large, loving heart made him absolute monarch over a (mostly) peaceable kingdom. At first his domain included only Sy’s cosseted hens and her beautiful border collie, Tess. Then the neighbors began fetching Christopher home from his unauthorized jaunts, the little girls next door started giving him warm, soapy baths, and the villagers brought him delicious leftovers. His intelligence and fame increased along with his gift, and he was eventually featured in USA Today and on several National Public Radio environmental programs. One election day, some voters even wrote in Christopher on their ballots.”

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How many times lately have I read “in these uncertain times” and “now more than ever”? Crises bring these phrases out.

So how do we inject the words with extra special urgency? I find myself thinking like Charlie Brown (or was it Lucy?) trying to fill up a book report: Now more than ever ever ever really and truly and I’m not kidding, programs about the environment such as Living on Earth are important.

Some of the Living on Earth shows — about melting ice and rising seas, for example — are crucial to our understanding of what we face. Others, like the one about a certain pig in Haiti, underline the interconnectedness of the environment and local economies. You can’t wipe out an animal people rely on and expect everything to be fine.

From Living on Earth: “In Haiti, the creole pig was a staple of the peasant economy, bringing families economic stability, devouring food waste and occasionally becoming an religious sacrifice. But as Allison Griner reports, disease killed many creole pigs and American efforts to control the swine flu took the rest. Efforts to replace the pig failed, but now peasant farmers are slowly rebuilding the creole pig herd.

“GRINER: To reverse the trend, [2015 presidential candidate Jean-Baptiste] Chavannes and his colleagues in the peasant movement decided to reintroduce the creole pig — or at least a hybrid that could fill its place.

“CHAVANNES: We want the return of the creole pig. So we led a fight, and over the years, the minister of agriculture finally started a program for the repopulation of the pigs. …

“GRINER: But just as the new pig herd was starting to grow, once again disease intervened. This time, the culprit was teschen, a virus that can kill a pig within days. Six years ago, it started to spread. And decades of work were lost. …

“Still, the fight is not yet over for the creole pig. Vaccines for teschen are already being tested in Haiti, and Chavannes hopes partnerships with international NGOs will help fight this latest disease. Part of Chavannes’ mission is to rebuild the peasant economy. But to reach that goal, bringing back the creole pig is a necessity, he says.

“CHAVANNES: We must. [Laughs] We must, and like I said, pig farming is indispensable for reestablishing the peasant economy. …

“GRINER: Already, the race to save Haiti’s pigs is well underway. This past spring, an official from the ministry of agriculture announced that the 500,000 doses of the teschen vaccine had been produced. The official says they are currently available for farmers to use.”

At Living on Earth, you can read what the pigs meant to the farmers, why they got killed off, why American pigs were a terrible replacement, and what kind of livestock peasants decided to raise while they are waiting for the creole pigs to come back.

Photo: Allison Griner
Pig in Delmas, Port au Prince, Haiti

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