Several of the Bahamas’ famous swimming pigs have died after tourists reportedly fed them beer and rum.
Seven of the animals were found dead in seas off the country’s Exuma Cays, leading the government to ban visitors from feeding the porcine creatures.
One of the pig’s owners, Wayde Nixon, told The Nassau Guardian: “The pigs were given the wrong food.
“We had the government vet in there [who] examined them all thoroughly. He gave them shots, he gave them medicine, and I was there and I worked with them for three days straight.
“We had them pigs there almost 30 years, and never has this happened before, but now we are going to have to regulate it.
“Right now it’s blowing out of proportion with people, anybody, bringing food there, anybody doing what they [want to] do. We have people coming there giving the pigs beer, rum, riding on top of them, all kinds of stuff.”
The majority of the pigs – believed to be around 15 – are still alive, although some reports said the figure was just seven or eight. The famous creatures swim in the sea off the Exuma Cays and are a popular attraction for tourists, who travel to the island to swim with the pigs.
However, other officials said the cause of the pigs’ death was currently unclear.
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“It could just be a horrible accident where they ate something poisonous”, said Kim Aranha, president of the Bahamas human Society animal group.
“It could be malicious but I don’t really see why someone would go out of their way to hurt those lovely animals.
“I know there are a lot of silly sailors that go and feed them alcohol to try and get them drunk but that’s not to mistake them with the tour operators based out of Nassau who have treated them with excellent care.”
V Alfred Gray, the country’s Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources, said from now on “people will be able to take photographs and see the pigs swim… but they will not be able to feed them things”.
The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism website suggests that, until now, tourists were free to feed the pigs without restriction.
“Visitors to the islands are happily embracing the unique and special experience of swimming with the pigs on the uninhabited island of Big Major Cay,” it says.
“The family of pigs, dubbed ‘adorable’ by tourists, locals and media alike, have become incredibly popular. They live freely on the sandy beaches, and after basking in the sun for hours, they swim in the surf.
“The pigs, though feral, are exceptionally friendly,” it continues, “running from under the shade of the almond trees to greet visitors that bring them treats. They are also fed by the crews of passing yachts and vessels.”
Bahamas officials were quoted as saying that, while the deaths would be bad for tourism and the local economy, people are still expected to visit the area to see the pigs.