Pigs are playful, friendly, sensitive, and intelligent animals. They’ve long been considered smarter than dogs, and the complexity of their social lives rivals those of primates. Much like people, pigs are soothed by music, love playing ball, and even enjoy getting massages.
On factory farms, pigs live in stressful, cramped, filthy conditions until they are transported to a slaughterhouse. If given the choice, pigs would spend their days foraging, playing, and lying in the sun. Here are some surprising facts about pigs that will make you question how we could ever condemn them to such miserable conditions and early death—for food that we don’t need:
1. Pigs are great communicators.
Pigs have more than 20 different sounds for different situations, and they use their sounds to communicate with each other constantly. This means they use a specific oink, grunt, or squeal when trying to woo a mate or express hunger, for example. Most adorably, mother pigs sing to their babies while nursing.
2. Pigs are self-aware.
There are only a few other animal species who have passed the “mirror test.” This test, conducted with pigs by Professor Donald Broom at Cambridge University, revealed that pigs are able to use a mirror as a tool to find food that is not otherwise visible. This means that, unlike most other animals, pigs understand that mirrors are reflections, rather than windows.
3. You can play video games with them.
A study by Dr. Stanley Curtis at Pennsylvania State University found that pigs can play—and enjoy—joystick-controlled video games and are capable of “abstract representation.” Hamlet and Omelette, the two pigs Curtis observed, would beg to be the first out of their pens in the morning so they could play the games. Don’t believe it? You can download the app Pig Chase and play with pigs on Dutch farms.
4. You can teach them things.
Dr. Curtis didn’t just teach pigs how to play games. He also taught them to sit and jump on command as well as fetch a ball, a Frisbee, and a dumbbell when told. The pigs were able to distinguish between the objects and to remember the distinctions years after they initially learned them.
5. Pigs have great memories.
Suzanne Held at the University of Bristol found through her research that pigs are quite good at remembering where their food is stored. The pigs in her study were able to choose their food stashes from among eight different locations. They were also able to remember which stash had smaller treats, and when given the choice, they chose to go to the stash with larger treats.
6. They know how to trick each other.
© Susan Riley Photography
Pigs are cunning. They often learn to follow other pigs to find food. However, if a pig is aware that this is happening, the pig will sometimes create evasive schemes to throw the other pig off the trail and thus avoid having to share the food.
7. They like to keep the thermostat at the right temperature.
Much like most people, pigs are particular about the temperature. Another thing Dr. Curtis observed was that they’re capable of learning to adjust a thermostat. The pigs he observed would turn up the thermostat in the barn when they were cold and turn it back down when they were too warm.
8. Pigs like to keep it clean.
Though you might often say you’re “sweating like a pig,” this just isn’t true. Pigs don’t sweat! They do like to bathe frequently to keep cool, though. One guardian built a shower for her pigs that they learned to turn on and off by themselves.
9. A pig could save your life.
There are many recorded cases of a pig saving a human’s life. Pru, for instance, pulled her guardian out of a bog. Priscilla saved an 11-year-old boy from drowning. Then there’s LuLu, who squeezed through a doggie door and ran into the street to flag down a car when her guardian had a heart attack.
10. Pigs keep their eyes on the bright side.
Despite hardships, pigs remain optimistic. In his book, The Whole Hog, naturalist Lyall Watson stated: “I know of no other animals that are more consistently curious, more willing to explore new experiences, more ready to meet the world with open mouthed enthusiasm. Pigs, I have discovered, are incurable optimists and get a big kick out of just being.”
11. If you met a pig, you would fall in love.
At an agricultural program at one East Coast university, an instructor brought in eight pregnant sows from a farm. After the sows gave birth, the students were instructed to auction off the mothers and their piglets for slaughter. As one student got to know the pigs, he learned how sensitive, intelligent, and loyal they are and couldn’t bear to sentence them to death. The student contacted Helga Tacreiter, who operates The Cow Sanctuary and has helped PETA with rescues over the years. With the help of PETA patron Sam Simon, Helga and the student persuaded the truck driver transporting the pigs to the slaughterhouse to turn around and take them to The Cow Sanctuary instead. After the harrowing rescue, the pigs are now flourishing in their new home and living the life that they deserve.