The Great Escape: The breakfast treat that is a little too closely rela ted for comfort

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The creatures outside looked from pig to man and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

George Orwell was spot on to cast pigs as the clever ones in his satire on Communism, Animal Farm.

The two boars who made a break for it this week when they were for the chop were obviously not stupid and, in this respect, they are unexceptional. Professor Peter Brooks, who has carved out a career as a pig behaviourist at Plymouth University, said: "It was really no accident that Orwell made them the thinkers and movers in Animal Farm. He knew what he was talking about. It may sound strange, I've watched pigs stand back and think about a problem."

He himself was sussed by sows when he tried to do an experiment on their eating habits. Within minutes of installing a computerised feeding system, he saw one of them getting into the exit door, defeating the electronics and gobbling as much food as desired. Twenty minutes later, she had taught the others to do the same.

Primates -including human beings - are reasonably closely related to pigs. Anatomically, pigs are quite similar to people- hence the use of pig organs in heart valve operations - and like (the majority of) us they are omnivores who will eat almost anything. Apparently, they even taste like us: the Polynesian cannibals' term for human being is "long pig".

The "modern" pig began to develop in the 19th century when wild animals were crossed with imported stock. Distinctive breeds began to develop, some suited to particular parts of the country. Hence there is Berkshire, Gloucester Old Spots, and the now famous Tamworth.

But while we carry on breeding them for the table, the relationship between pigs and people is becoming a little more complex. Films such as Babe have inculcated in children the notion that pigs are worth more than their fate as sausages. Children aren't the only ones, either. Since 1985 the Vietnamese Pot-Bellied pig has been promoted as a housepet; as the "pocket pig" or the "hog to jog with" on account of their diminutive size. They number an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 in the US today.

So what is the outlook for the breakaway boars of Tamworth, and how can they be helped to overcome their trauma? They could try to disguise themselves as Vietnamese, but would test even their skills. Had they been in France they could have teamed up with the huge numbers of wild boars roaming there. Surviving in the wild here is tougher.

Probably, their best bet is to find some suitably enlightened humans and seek asylum. If you are inclined to help, Mr Riffle suggests 10 things which make a pig happy: 1) grazing on fresh grass, especially clover. 2) Rooting, especially after a rain storm. 3) Special treats such as apples, cantaloupes, watermelon, and fresh vegetables. 4) Sunbathing, but remember the lotion. 5) Belly rubs and butt scratching. 6) Scratching on trees, large rocks, fence posts, and each other. 7) Socialising with other pigs. 8) Wrapping up in blankets or burying themselves in straw during the cold months. 9) Wallowing in mud puddles or wading pools during the hot months. 10) Exploring the woods ...

Which, of course, these porkers been happily doing.