ENDEMIC SPECIES - Togian Babirusa
Like many tropical islands, the Togean Islands are home to numerous endemic species. An endemic species is one which has evolved to exist in one geographical region becoming evolutionary distinct from similar populations, This usually happens because that area has been cut off from the evolutionary tree for a significant amount of time.
One of our rarest and most mysterious endemic species is the Togian Babirusa (Babyrousa togeanensis), also known as deer pigs. These strange animals are one of the oldest members of the pig family, with four distinct Babirusa species found throughout the Indonesian Islands.
A Togian Babirusa caught on camera trap at Kepulauan Togean National Park (TNKT). Photo credit Balai TNKT
Formally named as its own species in 2002, the Togian Babirusa is larger than the other members of its genus and covered in a long, sparse hair unlike the more commonly known North Sulawesi Babirusa. The males have some formidable canine teeth. Their lower jar canines protude upwards either side of their snout whilst the upper canines erupt through the bridge of the nose and curl towards their eyes.
Full of character the Togian Babirusa are adept swimmers and have been reported as swimming between islands. They have also been observed competing against each other for food and mates in "boxing matches" whereby they will fight whilst standing on their hind legs.
They're also highly vocal animals with 17 recognised vocalisations. There is anecdotal evidence from local hunters to suggest that one of these sounds is used to call for help when an individual is being attacked by their main predator; the reticulated python. Upon hearing this vocalisation, other babirusa's have been known to appear and start attacking the snake.
A Togian Babirusa foraging at Harmony Bay Resort. Photo credit Harmony Bay Resort
Endemic species are naturally more vulnerable to extinction due to their restricted distributions. The International Union for Conservation (IUCN) classifies the Togian Babirusa as endangered with an estimated population of 1000 mature individuals. However their population is sadly decreasing and becoming more fragmented.
Human populations have undoubtedly put pressure on the Babirusa in recent decades as they have fallen victim to habitat clearance, predation by domestic dogs, get caught in hunters traps or are persecuted by farmers as they are seen as a threat to agriculture.
One of our main activities to ensure the long-term survival of Togian Babirusa is to ensure there is sufficient habitat for their populations by undertaking reforestation projects. However we also work to educate farmers on their importance within the ecosystem and report any illegal trapping to the relevant authorities.
Moving forwards we would like to start a sterilisation programme to control the numbers of domestic dogs in the area. We also hope that our efforts to build an eco-tourism industry on the islands will have a positive impact as it will encourage individuals to place value in our unique, endemic species and may even provide farmers alternative or supplementary incomes to offset losses caused by wildlife damage.
Fast Facts: Togian Babirusa
Sparse hair ranging from pale fawn to black in colour
Pale underparts including belly and upper legs
Male has larger canines than females
Well developed tail tuft
Primary habitat is forest but also found in agricultural areas, secondary scrub, swamps and beaches.
Gestation Period: 125 - 150 days
Has been known to live up to 24 years old
Photo credit - Steve Hamblin