For many years the swimming pigs of Big Major Cay, also known as Pig Beach, in the Bahamas Exuma island chain, have been a major tourist attraction. Running wild on the uninhabited island, swimming out to meet boatloads of tourists and happily gobbling down the food and snacks they brought, the friendly porkers enjoyed a porcine paradise on their island in the sun.
But a mysterious wave of deaths swept the cay over the weekend. Initial investigations were unable to establish the exact cause of death of seven or eight pigs and the accusing finger was initially pointed at tourists.
But Bahamas Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Alfred Gray earlier this week reported that an autopsy performed on some of the animals revealed that eating sand was the problem.
“As you know, some people feed the pigs as they swim in the water, other people throw things on the sand for them to eat from the sand. You know sand is indigestible, sand cannot be digested, and the autopsy which was performed on one or two of the animals showed that they had a good amount of sand in their stomach. Sand not being able to be passed out by normal processes or digested had something to do with those animals having died…That’s the conclusion the veterinarian drew from his autopsy. We’ve sent blood samples off to labs to be tested to see whether there is any other contributing factor but to him that was the main cause, preliminarily found to have affected the lives of those animals,” Gray told reporters.
The 15 that are still alive appear to be healthy.
On the heels of the discovery of the bodies of the dead pigs, Bahamian farmer Wayde Nixon, one of two men who originally brought the animals to Big Major Cay, had said he believed tourists killed the animals with a lethal diet, noting that with unrestricted access to the pigs, visitors had been seen giving the animals junk food as well as alcohol.
“We have people coming there giving the pigs beer, rum, riding on top of them, all kind of stuff,” he told the Nassau Guardian newspaper.
Amidst the finger-pointing, President of the Bahamas Humane Society Kim Aranha had speculated that the pigs’ deaths might have been accidental: “It could just be a horrible accident where they ate something poisonous. It could be malicious, but I don’t really see why someone would go out of their way to hurt those lovely animals.”
Although acknowledging that there were “silly sailors” who were known to try to get the pigs drunk, she nevertheless insisted that tour operators out of Nassau treated the animals with respect.
Meantime, Nixon has sought support from the Bahamas’ Ministry of Tourism to restrict visitors from getting too close to the pigs. He said establishing a safe viewing distance would still allow tourists to photograph the pigs, while protecting the remaining animals.
Fuelled by celebrity visits, a feature on NBC’s Today show, and exposure on Instagram, the pigs’ fame has spread.
In addition to tourists, the sociable porkers have also welcomed a contingent of bikini-clad reality show contestants during an episode of ‘The Bachelor’, and had a brief cameo in the 2013 music video for ‘Timber’, the Pitbull dance-pop number featuring Ke$ha.