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Swim with the pigs in the Bahamas: How domestic swine became big business for the paradise islands

BY: Steve Dinneen

On 9 September the ocean around the Bahamas’ Long Island and the Exumas vanished. Where there should have been endless stretches of aquamarine, there was mile upon mile of muddy grey sand, flecked with seams of stringy kelp, all set against a foreboding backdrop of slate-grey cloud.

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Sandwiched between hurricanes Irma to the west and Jose to the east, water from these paradise islands was sucked away, feeding the storm surges that decimated other parts of the Caribbean.

The Bahamas escaped virtually unscathed, and when people woke up the next morning, the ocean was back where it’s supposed to be and the sun was shining, as if nothing had ever happened.

A month later in the Exumas, the only sign of the near-miss are the wooden boards still hammered over the windows of the pastel-coloured houses. It’s hot and sticky and tranquil. Sitting in a boat off its east coast, watching domestic pigs glide gracefully through the ocean, it seems unthinkable that it were ever any other way.

Wait, pigs? In the ocean? Ocean pigs? Oh yes: here, you will find big, fat pink pigs, kicking their little trotters through the surf, nuzzling up to the side of your boat on the promise of a turkey sausage.

If you’re a millennial, the sea-pigs of the Bahamas will probably be old news. They’re Insta-famous, adorning the social networks of countless “influencers”, who know a sure-fire 100,000-like photo opportunity when they see one. If you’re a little older, however, the pigs come as a surprise.

Initially, they were banished to an island to keep them away from the tourists, pigs being notoriously smelly and prone to defecating all over the place. Nobody wants to see that. So they were sent packing, and every day a man would chug out on a little boat to feed them. The pigs, being clever little swines, began to associate the sound of the motor with food, and would swim out to get the prime cuts before the other porkers could get a look-in.

Eventually, someone decided that, actually, this is exactly what tourists want to see, and now the pigs are spread over several islands, with people paying good money to sail out and hand-feed them.

We’re not talking little pigs, either: the biggest among them must weigh close to a tonne, with testicles the size and shape of human brains. They’re friendly enough, but they’ll swim straight through you to get their chops around a sausage. On their island – White Bay Cay – piglets scurry around your feet, and the adults (both human and pig) don’t seem to mind you picking them up.

pigs-5a09a2fab22b9It’s not just pigs, either. Bahamians have made a industry out of taking tourists to islands and letting them feed things. At first glance, the nearby Leaf Cay, which used to be owned by Nicholas Cage (at this stage, nothing would surprise me about Nicholas Cage), appears to be deserted. But as the boat approaches, the island’s residents gear-up for the daily feed. Iguanas. Dozens and dozens of rock iguanas, ready to gorge on buckets full of lettuce.

These red-frilled lizards are listed as “very endangered”, existing on just a handful of tropical islands, although they appear to be doing just fine here. The sight of maybe a hundred of these three-five foot beasts swinging their hips over the rocks is one you won’t forget in a hurry, and if you come armed with food, they’re happy to let you stroke them. When the buckets are empty, they turn and slink back into the undergrowth.

The third thing you can feed – and probably my favourite – are manta rays. For this, it’s best to head to Stocking Island, where you can while away an afternoon, or a week, or the rest of your life, at Chat ‘N’ Chill, a beach-bar so laid-back that from a distance you might assume it were dead.

Here you can get drunk on signature Bahamian cocktails, like the “banana mama” (rum, grenadine, orange juice and pineapple juice) and “sky juice” (coconut milk, condensed milk and gin), both of which are so blood-curdlingly sugary you can expect a truly life-affirming hangover the next day.

But before you get too sloshed, pay a visit to the shack on the beach, where live conch (the things that live inside those lovely shells that your gran probably kept in the loo) are extracted, chopped into cubes and served in lime juice with onion, tomato and peppers, a bit like ceviche. Conch (pronounced “konk”) have a meaty texture that’s a world away from soft shellfish like scallops or oysters.

conch-shelled-5a09a288ae31bAnd if you ask the salad-maker nicely, he will donate some conch guts, which you can then give to the gigantic manta rays who have learned to hang out here for a free feed. They will swim right up onto you if you’re not nervous around them, nibbling away at conch guts with their weird little ghost faces and generally being adorable.

Chat ‘N’ Chill also has a great selection of grilled fish and meats, although for me, the food is slightly overshadowed by Santana’s Bar & Grill, on the south end of the main island (there are more than 700 in the archipelago). This is the restaurant where famous wife-beater Johnny Depp used to hang out while he was filming Pirates of the Caribbean, and you can see why.
The fried lobster with rice ‘n’ peas and macaroni cheese (everything in the Bahamas comes with rice ‘n’ peas and macaroni cheese, the latter being cooked until it’s a delicious cheesy paste) is glorious, and the view out to the ocean, where yellow lemon shark glide silently past, would have been left out of the book of holiday cliches for being too damned beautiful.

Next door is Ma’s Bakery, where 86-year-old Ma – who boasts 38 grandchildren – gives away free hugs alongside the baked goods (which you have to pay for). To get home you could book a cab, but this i
s the kind of island where you can still hitch-hike and not end up on Crimewatch, so do that instead and pretend you’re in a Jack Kerouac novel for the 20 minutes it will take to get home.

And “home” should be the gigantic Sandals Emerald Bay. Now, hear me out: I know all-inclusive resorts aren’t always considered the height of sophistication, with the trend being to stay in a corrugated steel hut with a local mining community or some such. But Sandals is actually rather lovely. For a start, there are no kids here. Just imagine that: no kids. At all. Blissful.

And there’s something wonderful about rolling out of bed at 11am, crashing into the sea like an exuberant walrus and then ordering a couple of rum and cokes to take the edge off the hangover from all the gin and condensed milk you drank the previous evening. All of this without having to bring a wallet, because it’s all inclusive. That also goes for the 11 restaurants too, and there’s also a Greg Norman-designed golf course, tennis courts and scuba diving, for those who aren’t satisfied lounging on a beach reading and getting sozzled like the rest of us.

iguana-5a09a3367b263Sandals is also a great location from which to explore the local history, with little tombs and monuments and ruined old prisons lurking down leafy paths, which require a guide to find. You should also bone-up on your local history, which involves centuries of slave ownership, uprisings and, eventually, emancipation. There are an inordinate number of people with the surname Rolle, after a former land-owner gave the name to his former slaves along with the land they once worked.

Away from the resorts, the Exumas aren’t exactly glossy; this is no manicured paradise like the hotel-owned islands of the Maldives. The rusting skeletons of machinery lie by the roadsides and anything left alone for more than five minutes is reclaimed by the verdant blanket of greenery that covers the island. It makes Exumas feel lived-in, a place you can really explore, even get lost in, but then still find your way home before you have to call the emergency services.

And you get to feed pigs. Honestly, it had me at “pigs”.

 

Read original article here.

Pigs of Paradise book: The story of Exuma’s Swimming Pigs

In the middle of paradise, with billionaires and celebrities for neighbors, there is an island populated only by Swimming Pigs.

There was a time when these animals were largely unknown to the world.
And suddenly, they went viral. Appearing in magazines, videos, newspapers, commercials, TV shows and countless selfies, the Swimming Pigs of Exuma became a bucket list sensation.

But how did they get there? What made them so famous?  And why, in February 2017, did so many of them die?

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’Pigs of Paradise’ is an unlikely story of humble beginnings and the swift rise to stardom. With interviews from historians, world-renowned ecologists, scholars, famous pig owners and boat captains, it thoughtfully considers not only what this phenomenon says about these animals, but also about ourselves.

A portion of every sale is donated to the Bahamas Humane Society.

Follow along on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram!

Swimming Pigs make the list in Lonely Planet’s ‘Marvels of the modern world’

In this excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Secret Marvels of the World, we take you to far-flung corners of the Earth in which pigs catch some rays, monkeys soak the day away and nature paints on a canvas all its own.

At number two you can find Exuma’s very own Swimming Pigs:

2. Pig Beach – Big Major Cay, the Bahamas

The Bahamas, an alluring chain of islands surrounded by luminous turquoise waters, is an ideal place to bask in the bright Caribbean sun or snorkel with rainbows of fish. Turns out it’s also the best place in the world to hit the sands with some rather unusual local beach bums: swimming pigs.

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The southernmost beach on the uninhabited Big Major Cay, part of the Exuma Cays, is a porcine paradise, home to a gaggle of wild pigs that love nothing more than to take a daily ocean dip.

You can ask Bahamians about how these porky paddlers arrived in such a place, but you’ll receive a wide range of answers. Some locals believe that ships carrying livestock to Nassau wrecked off the coast of the islet, leaving the animals to swim ashore to the cay; others think that they were intentionally brought by explorers (perhaps even Columbus himself) and pirates. Whatever their origin, the pigs are a hit with visitors looking for an unconventional day at the beach. While the animals are indeed feral, they are known for their friendly nature and have a habit of swimming out to greet passing boats, their snuffling snouts poking out of the gentle waves.

The Exumas, 60 kilometres south of Nassau, can be accessed via flight or ferry

 

As read in The Globe & Mail article.

Swimming with the pigs: Make-A-Wish Foundation makes a dream come true

For 7-year-old Jillian Crockett, of Westminster, a tropical island vacation seemed impossible, especially considering the host of medical issues she deals with daily. But then the Make-A-Wish Foundation stepped in, proving that sometimes dreams really do come true.
“For everything we do and everything we plan, we have to consider if there is a hospital nearby, is there a doctor, and can we get to medical supplies?” Jillian’s mom, Rachel Crockett said.
Jillian suffers from a list of medical issues, including a form of epilepsy called Boose syndrome.
“She has neuropathy that effects all of her extremities and gives her burning and pain and can cause her to have difficulty in balancing and walking at times,” Crockett said. “She has neurogenic disorders and a rare and undiagnosed genetic disorder that affects her central nervous system. She gets medical care every three hours. Our lives revolve around her care.”
So, Crockett was surprised to get a call from the Make-A-Wish Foundation and learn that her mother had nominated Jillian. Then, she was surprised again when she heard Jillian’s wish.
“About two weeks beforecctnews-make-a-wish-foundation-makes-a-dream-come-true-pg-20170425 the Make-A-Wish coordinators came to talk to her we saw a video that was going around about the swimming pigs,” Crockett said. “She’d watched the video twice but never said anything more about it, so we were all taken by surprise when she said she wanted to go swim with the pigs. Before that she’d always talked going to Disney and seeing all the princesses.”

In the weeks leading up to the trip, Jillian never wavered about wanting to see the pigs who live on the uninhabited island officially named Big Major Cay in Exuma, the Bahamas. Known as Pig Island, it’s home to a colony of feral pigs that frequently swim out to meet boats, looking for a handout.

Legend says the pigs were dropped off many years ago by a group of sailors who planned to return but never did. But another story told by locals says the swine swam ashore from a shipwreck.
Crockett said the March 29 to April 3 trip was amazing from start to finish. Her husband, Dan, remained home while she and her mom, Bobbi Savaliski, took Jillian and Jillian’s 4-year-old brother, Andy. The foursome flew from Baltimore to Florida and from there to Staniel’s Cay, a small island neighboring Pig Island.

“You can walk the entire island in an hour or so,” Crockett said. We were in a tiny two-story cottage. There are only seven or eight cottages on the island. You could see Pig Island from Staniel’s Key and it was just a five-minute boat ride to get there.”
Soon after arriving, they were off to see the pigs. Crockett said a guide took them the first time, but the family returned in a boat that came with the house, driving it on their own to Pig Island and other neighboring islands.

“The pigs who came swimming out to the boat were huge sows. Jillian’s eyes got really big when she saw them coming because, they were so big,” said Crockett. Added Jillian: “Some were big and some were little. They were pushy but they were nice.”
Crockett said the guide gave them bags of food for the pigs and instructed them to feed only from the boat.

“He reminded us that the pigs are scavengers, and they’ll get the food however they can,” Crockett said. “You feed them in the water because then they can’t jump up and knock you down. If you hold your hand out and say, ‘No food’ they go away. They know.”
Jillian liked the pigs, but she liked the iguanas on Iguana Island even more. And she liked driving the boat, too.

bs-ccth-ccth-cc-swimming-with-pigs3-2-20170425“I did good driving the boat,” said Jillian. “I went, ‘Yahhhh!’ when I cranked it up to full speed, and then I let go and it went to hardly any speed at all. I would like to go back tomorrow,” she added, very matter-of-factly.

Crockett said the iguanas were used to having visitors.

“I wasn’t afraid,” Jillian said. “One bit me when I was trying to feed the little one. It didn’t hurt. It was sort of like a nick. And some wouldn’t let you touch their tales.”
With so much to see, the Crockett family adventure didn’t end there.

“There were also nurse sharks and stingrays inside a cove at the resort. The sharks have teeth but not sharp ones,” Crockett said. “They are bottom feeders that are quite harmless. At first, Jillian was nervous about touching them, but by the time we left she was fine. The restaurant uses lobster tails and throws the rest of the lobster in for the stingrays and sharks so they come and go at will. There was a sign for us, but you went into the water on your own.”

Read the full story here.

President of Bahamas Humane Society weighs in on what could have really harmed swimming pigs of Big Major Cay, Exuma.

In a recent opinion piece of the Bahamian newspaper ‘The Tribune,’ Kim Aranha, the President of the Bahamas Humane Society weighed in on what could have truly been behind the unfortunate harm that befell some of the beloved Swimming Pigs of Big Major Cay in Exuma, Bahamas.

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 – – – Monday, March 6, 2017

INSIGHT: Government is making a pig’s ear out of treatment of animal deaths 

Kim Aranha questions why an immediate recall of contaminated pig feed from the government’s feed mill has not been forthcoming and calls for the release of the report of the investigation into the deaths of Exuma’s swimming pigs . . .

As the reaction to the death of what I believe to be seven pigs (the numbers keep changing) on Big Major Cay – aka Pig Beach – in the Exumas continues to resonate across the globe, I have been contacted or quoted by journalists from some of the most respected or renowned media groups: BBC, CBC, the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, Elle UK, The Independent (UK), The Washington Post, the New York Times, the National Geographic, Il Corriere della Sera (Italy) to name but some, I am trying very hard to get as much or all the information that is out there.

Alas, many people are afraid to talk. Others are very willing to talk but absolutely do not wish to be named because of the fear of becoming the target of victimisation. The latter category has been very vocal and I have greatly appreciated every bit of information. It has brought to light more than one concern to think about.

Swimming-Pigs-Bahamas-15As reported in The Tribune on Thursday, there was a large batch of pig feed milled at the government entity, the Gladstone Road Agricultural Centre (GRAC), that was tainted: the cause of this, as far as I can find out, is that, allegedly, the corn that was brought in from the United States to enable GRAC to make the pig feed was left on the docks for three weeks in a container in the hot sun, and when the shipment was finally cleared and brought to the facility to be milled, it had already “soured”. However, in their wisdom, they went ahead with the task at hand and made a considerable batch of pig feed. Now this is where it all gets very concerning … the bags of pig feed were sold to farmers all over the island and, perhaps, to boat operators who were trying to be responsible and were purchasing what they thought would be best for the “swimming pigs”. I say “perhaps” because I doubt we will ever know for certain. Some operators have told me (confidentially, of course) that they had bought feed from GRAC to give the tourists to feed the pigs.

What we do know for sure is many farmers did buy the feed; in many – and in some cases all – their pigs died. I spoke to a couple of farmers, as recently as this weekend, who suffered huge losses following purchasing this feed; they blame the feed and giving it to their livestock. What we do not know, but we hear repeatedly from people very close to GRAC, is that they, too, lost a large quantity of their breeding pigs, so many that they dug a mass grave and buried them rather quickly. This has not been verified, but is certainly the topic of many conversations I have had.

Swimming-Pigs-Bahamas-3What we do know is there was spoiled feed, pigs died and yet nobody I know of has heard of a single recall or warning from the government. No announcements on the radio, no warnings on TV, nothing in the papers … which leads to the second question, why on earth not?

Surely the very first order of the day would be to warn all the farmers who may still be in possession of this feed?

I ask myself why the Ministry of Agriculture is not scrambling to help these farmers who have lost a huge part of their livelihood. “Bring back the bags, we will reimburse you” should be the order of the day. The responsible thing to do must be to find out who lost pigs, the quantity and then help them get back on their feet by supplying pigs for free. There are families who have lost a considerable part of their income, immeasurable for some. Where is the humanitarian aid here? Even if they don’t care about the pigs, what about the people affected, families losing their livelihoods?

Getting back to the “swimming pigs” and what fate befell them, I suspect we will actually never have the absolute cause. The entire operation has undertaken a nefarious air and the cloak and dagger demeanour with which the “investigation” has been conducted makes one automatically think the very worst. The refusal to give information, to return calls or to even discuss the circumstances gives cause for concern.

Cover up 
I have been contacted – confidentially again, of course – by more than one veterinarian who has unequivocally stated that they do not believe it possible that those pigs died of sand ingestion. I do not think that anybody denies that the pigs had sand in their stomachs, but that would not be unusual and it is an amazing coincidence for them to all die at the same time! I have received Facebook messages from residents in the Exuma Cays who are insulted by the ingested sand report; they feel slighted and cheated and they fear a cover up that the “swimming pigs” got caught in the middle of something by accident and unavoidable circumstances. They want explanations and reports that are not forthcoming.

We know for sure that those pigs have been on Big Major’s Cay for years. Obviously a point of considerable concern is that when the Bahamas Humane Society sent down its Inspector on the Sunday after the discovery on February 17, he found that the natural source of water had all but dried up and the “tubs” of water were inadequate and muddy. I question who has actually been responsible for the water for these animals and how do they transport sufficient daily water for the pigs? I do know that many tour operators bring them fresh water, but that, at best, must be sporadic.

We have been told that there was a necropsy performed but the only information released is that there was sand in the pigs’ stomach, which was not remotely surprising.

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How many pigs were examined?
What else was in their stomachs?
Were fecal samples taken from the cay?
Was the water tested?
How thoroughly were the remaining pigs examined?
Were tests conducted on the living pigs at all?

Two weeks have passed and the world continues to ask questions and we all get fobbed off with “sand in the tummy” routine.

I understand that there will now be supervision. There are already signs and, hopefully, the sad situation of the occasional tourists, visitors or Bahamians, undertaking random acts of stupidity like feeding the pigs alcohol will now be curbed. The world press has picked up on these reports and keep asking why tourists are being blamed.

This is rather like a game of “To Tell the Truth”. As a concerned community we need the answers and the truth. Incidentally, for once in a long time, that expression “the eyes of the world are upon us” has never been so accurate as the world press clamours daily for answers.

I call upon those in charge to release the information on the tainted feed and to step up and help those farmers who have been devastated by loss.

(….)

Read the full opinion piece here

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