Protecting Indonesia’s “Kosher Pig”

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Illustration by Fotolia/Morphart
The babirusa isn't a ruminant, but thanks to cloven hooves it's called the "kosher pig."

Late last year the media had fun with an Agency for International Development report that suggested scientists may have found a pig whose meat could be kosher. According to reports, this discovery might lead to an important new food source — particularly for Jews and Muslims, who do not eat pork because “regular” pigs aren’t ruminants. (Porkers lack a second stomach, and therefore don’t have cud to chew. However, they do fulfill another kosher requirement: They have cloven hooves.)

But hold on! Into the picture steps a California biologist who spent years studying the “kosher pig,” babirusa (or pig deer), in the jungles of Indonesia. “Kosher or not,” said Victoria Joan Selmier, “the babirusa is an endangered species.” Selmier’s research has indicated that there are fewer than 1,000 of the animals on the planet and that their critical habitat is already threatened. The capture of enough of them to begin a commercial breeding colony might well spell the end of the wild population.

Ironically; the babirusa owes its continued existence to the fact that the people who share its habitation on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi are Muslims and therefore leave the babirusa alone. If these people were convinced that it was all right to eat the animal, that would be the end of it in no time. Selmier thinks the suggestions about raising the babirusa domestically are hogwash. “The babirusa wouldn’t do a third as well as America’s 60,000,000 hogs. Babirusa meat would be very expensive at best, affordable only by the affluent.”