Babirusas: Newest creatures at the Nashville Zoo

Nashville Zoo

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — There’s always something new at the Nashville Zoo, and the latest additions are two Sulawesi babirusas.

Chelsea Lee, hoof stock zookeeper, said babirusas are in the swine family. Babirusa, in Malay language, means “pig deer.”

These rainforest dwellers are considered vulnerable to extinction because of logging and agriculture conversion of their habitat.

“There’s so much special about these guys,” Lee explained. “Our babirusa are specifically North Sulawesi babirusa from the Sulawesi Islands, specifically in Indonesia. So, these guys actually come from an island where they have no known predators. They are happy living life out there.”

She continued, what makes these pig-like creatures so unique is there awesome tusks.

There are clear differences between the tusks in males and females.

“Dobby, our male, has some really impressive tusks'” Lee explained. “His canine teeth go out from the bottom and make a hoof around the side of his face. But, what makes Sulawesi babirusa really cool, is that he has his top canine teeth that actually grow right through the top of his jaw.”

Lee said the teeth will curl towards his forehead, “It makes him really formidable to other males, and makes him very attractive to females.”

Two-year-old, Dobby shares his enclosure with three-year-old Tinsel, the zoo’s female babirusa. “She doesn’t have those tusks. She has itty-bitty ones on the bottom of her jaw,” Lee said. “She doesn’t really have to fight for much – a little bit more calm in her lifestyle.”

Researchers don’t know the exact reason babirusas have these strange tusks. “There’s speculation they’re for fighting other males for control of females in the wild. Also, it might be for guarding their faces from other males while they are fighting. Or, it could be just showing a demonstration of their fitness level. If you have really beautiful tusks, then you’re going to get those ladies,” Lee said.

These two babirusas have been paired up at the zoo in hopes they will mate.

Lee said, “We are seeing some breeding interest and some breeding behavior. So, we’re hoping that she may have a litter in the future. She has had a litter at her previous facility before. So, she knows the ropes. But, Dobby’s first time. So, he’s still just kind of figuring it out.”

Since babirusas are considered an endangered species, a little love in the air at the Nashville Zoo would be important to their survival.

Dobby and Tinsel are part of the Species Survival Plan, SSP. “These guys are a great genetic match for each other. So, they’re going to produce genetically diverse individual piglets. So, in the future when we do have those piglets, we will raise them here to probably maturity. And then other zoos might be recommended to breed with their babirusa, or they might be recommended to house those babirusa.”

You can check out the zoo’s newest additions along the Bamboo Trail.

News 2’s Davis Nolan asked Lee if there was anything else she wanted to mention about these interesting animals. She answered, “Hmmmm…just how cute they are!” she exclaimed.

“A lot of people will come up and say, ‘oh my gosh, that’s so ugly.’ And I say, ‘So ugly it’s cute.'”

You know the saying, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

News 2 has partnered with Nashville Zoo to bring you weekly segments of Zoopalooza. You can watch them on News 2 on Good Morning Nashville on Saturday and right here on WKRN.com.

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