Countless people are dead and missing after catastrophic Hurricane Dorian, but some folks are also worried about the fate of the pigs.
Pigs may not be able to fly, but they sure can swim, and there’s no more beloved swimming pigs than those living on the white-sand beaches of The Bahamas.
Social media has been abuzz about the welfare of the pigs since Hurricane Dorian — one of the most powerful hurricanes in recorded history — decimated parts of the island chain this week.
Dorian blew in as a Category 5 with near-record winds of 185 mph and a storm surge of over 25 feet in places such as Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands, where at least two of the estimated nine colonies of swimming pigs live.
“They are still saving people in Abaco and Grand Bahama, and we’re all very concerned about all life, whether it be human or the swimming pigs,” T.R. Todd, author of the 2018 book and forthcoming film Pigs of Paradise: The Story of the World-Famous Swimming Pigs said of how the pigs may have fared. “We don’t really know yet. They dust needs to settle still. Reggie still hasn’t even been accounted for.”
The Reggie to whom Todd is referring is Reginald Curry, who has not been heard from since last Saturday.
Curry recently took over care of Piggyville, a newer colony of swimming pigs on No Name Cay in the Abacos from a man they call “The Pig Whisperer.”
Todd says Curry opened a restaurant in May and was building a gift shop and cottages to cater to the pig-loving public that began flocking to the islands since the swimming pigs were featured in 2016 episodes of “The Today Show” and “The Bachelor.”
Todd says he has been touched by the outpouring of compassion and concern from those who also care about the pigs.
“It just shows how much people care about animals and just how important these swimming pigs have been to people,” Todd said.
What used to be a cult activity for people in the know has grown into a major tourist attraction, with people flocking from around the world to wade through the warm blue shallows of the Atlantic to feed carrots to baby piglets and adults weighing up to 300 pounds.
The commodification of the swimming pigs has drawn criticism from animal welfare activists. But it has also drawn visits from folks like Kim and Khloé Kardashian, who prompted a media frenzy with their visit last month.
Big Major Cay became home to the first colony of swimming pigs in the 1990s, when residents of nearby Staniel Cay stocked the uninhabited island with pigs to be slaughtered for food.
The pigs, which Todd said are descendants of common Yorkshire farm pigs, are emotional, cognitively complex and highly intelligent. Even so, they have historically been treated with disdain, and Todd said the swimming pigs offer people the chance to interact with them in a whole new way.
“I think it speaks to our desire to relate to the animals,” he said of the magnetic draw of the pigs. “We can form a new and interesting relationship that is not based on consumption, but almost like a kinship.”
This new way of thinking about pigs is precisely how the cherished swimming pigs came to be. When farmers from Staniel Cay would boat over to feed their stock, they discovered something unexpected.
“The pigs would hear the boats approaching and got all excited and swam out to meet them,” said Sandra Hyltom Kemp, communications director for Pieces of 8 Charters in Nassau. “That’s how they got their claim to fame. Now, they are no longer a food source because they are cute and they started swimming.”
Kemp said the 40-50 pigs living at Pig Beach on Big Major Cay in the Exumas survived Dorian because the archipelago is so far south that it escaped the worst of the storm.
She feared, however, that the pigs on the islands farther north, where the eye of the storm hovered for days, may not have fared so well.
“I would not think that they are in good shape,” she said, her voice dropping. “We’ve never experienced anything like this before. It’s heartbreaking.”
While Kemp and others love the pigs, she said the immediate focus of rescue crews is geared toward people.
“There’s so many human deaths, and it’s really, really terrible,” she said. “From what we’re seeing coming out of Grand Bahama, it’s catastrophic. In Abaco, everything is just swept away.”
Todd agrees that saving human lives is of paramount importance, but acknowledges that, for anyone who has ever interacted with the pigs, the thought of their suffering is devastating.
“In a world in which we are destroying our environment at a record pace, it’s kind of heartwarming to see that people care about these animals,” he said.
The swimming pigs will also play a valuable role in helping The Bahamas recover from the hurricane’s inevitable financial blow. Todd said the pigs account for millions of tourism dollars each year, and in The Exumas, about 50 percent of tourists now come for the pigs.
“It’s kind of their Mickey Mouse,” he said of the Bahamian tourism industry embracing the swimming pigs. “You often see a picture of the crystal clear water with a pig looking in the camera. It’s almost a symbol of the country itself.”
If you want to help:
The Swimming Pig Store is selling limited edition #BahamasStrong men’s and women’s T-shirts, with all profits going to the Bahamas Red Cross.
This story originally published to palmbeachpost.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the GateHouse Media network via the Florida Wire. The Florida Wire, which runs across digital, print and video platforms, curates and distributes Florida-focused stories. For more Florida stories, visit here, and to support local media throughout the state of Florida, consider subscribing to your local paper.