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Cunning pigs: the intelligence of swine

Cunning pigs: the intelligence of swine

Pigs will outwit your dog, finish your jigsaw and remember what you did last summer. Find out what these little piggies are capable of and reassess your own IQ in the meantime.

Sentient sows

pig in mud

Pigs are highly sensitive, emotional creatures that, due to their awareness of their own plight can suffer from depression if kept in inappropriate conditions. Small, cramped pens with no distractions or activities will not a happy pig make.

An animal sanctuary in California told the story of an older sow with leg injuries named Hope and her piglet friend Jonny, who would comfort her with cuddles at night and bring her food and drink during the day. When Hope eventually died of old age, young Jonny was inconsolable and died two weeks later of no natural cause or accident other than what they perceived at the sanctuary as devastation.

Pigs will also carry out activities with the sole purpose of experiencing pleasure and happiness. Rolling around in mud is a practical tool for them to cool down and protect them from sunburn, but is also highly enjoyable and pigs will often play in mud in cooler weather too.


Sat-nav swines

sat nav swine
A pig makes a daring bid for freedom. Image via Lost at E Minor

There have been a few cases of pigs escaping abattoirs and zoos, using their acute sense of direction and teamwork.

The Tamworth Two, for example, were a pig brother and sister duo who managed to run away together from an abattoir in Wiltshire. They squeezed through a fence, swam the River Avon and hid in thicket before being found in someone’s garden and later moved to an animal sanctuary in Kent.

In 2009, 180 pigs set to be turned into breakfast at the Malton Bacon Factory, York managed to escape the lorry after it was involved in an accident.


Jigsaw hogs

Take a look at Moritz the puzzle solving pig. Within 52 seconds, Moritz from Germany manages to correctly fit the pig-shaped jigsaw pieces with their corresponding colour and shape.  

According to medical journal, 'Assessing Learning and Memory in Pigs', E.T. Gieling reviews studies of the pig’s cognitive capacities, looking at their ability to use their large and well developed brains to problem solve and multi-task with excellent memory banks.


Telling porkies

pigs snuffling

Research has found pigs to display signs of Theory of Mind: the awareness of your own thoughts and feelings and the ability to recognise them in others, as well as realise they may be different from one’s own.

Pigs have been found to use this knowledge and awareness to manipulate their fellow pig, usually in order to receive more food for themselves through deceitful behaviour.

This social awareness has only elsewhere been found in man and ape.


Forgive and remember

pigs together

Pigs have a long-term memory that rivals the elephant’s infamous recall abilities. Dr Stanley Curtis taught a group of pigs to interact specifically with three different objects (fetch a ball, jump over a dumbbell, sit next to a Frisbee).

Three years later, the pigs remembered and distinguished between the objects and actions with no further training or follow-up sessions.

Pigs have also been found to recognise and remember up to 30 other pigs. And although they might remember another’s bad behaviour or abuse, pigs will not hold a grudge and ‘forgive’ each other’s behaviour as well as mistreatment from humans.


Techno snouts

In the 1990’s pigs were trained to use their snouts to distinguish between doodles and scribbles they recognised and ones they were viewing for the first time.

They used their snouts to move the cursor and accurately identify the images, learning more quickly than chimpanzees.

Pigs were also found to excel at video games, quickly learning how to use a joystick with their snouts and achieving over 80% in accuracy. 


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