A close-up look at a Hairy babirusa


I covered babirusas recently; you might have noticed. As you'll know if you read those articles, Meijaard & Groves (2002a, b) argued a few years ago that Babyrousa babyrussa of tradition should actually be split up into several phylogenetic species. Coincidentally, I published an article on lumping vs splitting in extant mega-mammals only a few weeks before Groves et al. (2010) split white rhinos into two phylogenetic species.


Among the most distinctive of the 'newly recognised' babirusa species is the Hairy or Golden babirusa. Somewhat ironically, it seems that babirusas of this sort were the first ones that became known to Europeans (or, the first ones that became known to Linnaeus, anyway). Accordingly, this is the type species for the genus Babyrousa: B. babyrussa Linnaeus, 1758. Here's how I characterised it in the previous article...

B. babyrussa Linnaeus, 1758: a small species, with long, thick body hair and a well developed tail tuft. The common names Golden babirusa and Hairy babirusa have been used lately for this species. The upper canines of males are short and slender and cross the lower canines in lateral view. The upper canines tend to diverge or be subparallel, but they may be weakly convergent. B. babyrussa is from the Sula Islands (east of central Sulawesi) and Buru (just south-east of the Sula Islands). Most workers think that the babirusas were introduced to these islands, and if this is so we don't know what their true place of origin was. Unfortunately babirusas from the adjacent eastern and south-eastern parts of Sulawesi remain unknown, so it is not possible to test whether or not they are particularly similar to B. babyrussa.

Tet Zoo regular Ivan (aka Hai-Ren) - who, hopefully, who'll know for his blog The Lazy Lizard's Tales - was kind enough to send me photos of the stuffed Hairy babirusa on display at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research. As mentioned previously, this male specimen came from Buru and was donated by G. P. Stubbs in 1913. Because the lighting wasn't so good, the photos were pretty dark (they were shown here). Since then, the museum has moved the exhibits around, and the result is better lighting and better photos. The new photos you see here are the result, and they show the Hairy babirusa specimen in more natural guise.


As you can see, the Hairy or Golden babirusa really does live up to its names. Its fuzzy pelt makes it look quite different from the grey, naked-skinned babirusas we're more used to: these naked-skinned populations belong to the species B. celebensis. The small tail tuft can also be seen in the photo used above. The upper tusks are short in the specimen shown here; this is apparently typical for this form (a real contrast to B. celebensis, where the upper tusks curl upwards towards the forehead and can be really long).


This is also a good time to draw attention to the fact that the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research is currently raising funds to enable it to expand into a proper natural history museum with more space for public exhibits. Ivan has written about this at The Lazy Lizard's Tales, and you read more about it at this National University of Singapore site. Everyone interested in tropical natural history really should be familiar with the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research: not only does it house interesting and important exhibits like the stuffed Hairy babirusa shown here; it also publishes the very useful Bulletin of the Raffles Museum. All in all, a great institution that needs our support.


The subject of providing support for zoological institutions and the researchers that work in them is very much topical. In an article discussing the description of new monitor lizards from the Philippines (2010 really is becoming 'Year of the Monitor'), Wolfgang Böhme - vice-director of the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig - draws attention to the fact that "There are too few experts in the world, the education level at universities is declining and the essential knowledge about global biodiversity stands to get lost!". The current economic climate means that people are not being replaced when they retire*; a direct result is that knowledge about collections is lost, and knowledge about biodiversity and conservation priority suffers as a result. This is not, of course, a new problem, however: people have been saying for years that there are too few biologists for all the organisms out there. It's difficult to know what to do about this, but we can help by raising awareness.

* Though this has been the case for a while given the poor financial situation many institutions are in.

Many thanks indeed to Hai-Ren for the photos. For previous Tet Zoo articles on babirusas see...

Refs - -

Groves, C., Fernando, P, & Robovský, J. 2010. The sixth rhino: a taxonomic re-assessment of the critically endangered northern white rhinoceros. PLoS one 5 (4): e9703. doi:10.1371/journal/pone.0009703

Meijaard, E. & Groves, C. 2002a. Proposal for taxonomic changes within the genus Babyrousa. Asian Wild Pig News 2 (1), 9-10.

Meijaard, E. & Groves, C. (2002). Upgrading three subspecies of babirusa (Babyrousa sp.) to full species level. Asian Wild Pig News, 2 (2), 33-39


More like this

Welcome to yet another article in the (outstandingly successful, yet recycled from ver 1) series on babirusas. Observant readers will have noticed that, strangely, I've refrained thus far from using a scientific binomial for babirusas, plus I've consistently (I think) referred to them in the…
In the previous article we looked at the proposal that the various babirusa taxa - long regarded as subspecies - deserve to be raised to species rank. The argument goes that the taxa concerned are (1) morphologically diagnosable, (2) 'as distinct' as are other taxa traditionally regarded as…
One of the most remarkable pigs has to be the Bornean bearded pig Sus barbatus, one of two currently recognised bearded pig species. The other is the much smaller, shorter-faced Palawan bearded pig S. ahoenobarbus of the Philippines: genetic work suggests that S. ahoenobarbus is not a close…
In the interests of recycling old material from Tet Zoo ver 1, I present... yes, a whole series of articles devoted to one of the most unusual and remarkable of hoofed mammals. Come on, we all love babirusas. If you've been with Tet Zoo from the beginning, none of what's to follow will be new […

I am brazilian twitter. Great job. Nice to meet you.

For people with lousy displays, this brighter, white-balanced version of the first photo might be a bit easier on the eyes: http://imgur.com/QCFR6.jpg

Thanks a lot Darren for doing this post!

Sir Stamford Raffles was not only the so-called 'founder' of Singapore, and he was an eminent naturalist who described many species from the region. Alfred Wallace also spent some time collecting in Singapore. And it's important that more people in Singapore become aware of the unique biodiversity that is found in Singapore and in Southeast Asia as a whole.

On a personal note, I find it a real shame that here in Singapore, more emphasis has been placed on our cultural and historical heritage, with natural history taking somewhat of a backseat. And as for as interest in the life sciences is concerned, the focus is almost entirely on biotechnology. But if the museum manages to secure the funds needed for the expansion, it would really help raise the profile of biodiversity and highlight the importance of natural history and continue the legacy of the 19th naturalists.

If any Tet Zoo readers happen to be in Singapore in the near future, feel free to contact me and I'll show you around if possible!

Interesting update and photos. I was fortunate to see babirusas on Sanana in the Sula Islands last November. Two adults and two very small young (plain brown, unstriped) were feeding on fermented fruit alongside a stream in a rocky gorge, and only reluctantly went up a steep slope into bamboo thickets when approached. Their dorsal hair is definitely blonde, although in those animals it was longer, 2-3 cm, in a band down the back but much shorter (if even present) on the sides.

By Sam Sweet (not verified) on 23 May 2010 #permalink