From the tips of their comical ears to the end of their non-curly tails, red river hogs Murphy and Mina simply exude porcine personality. Smart, sassy, and possessing startlingly sharp senses of humor, the pair is creating a stir in Urban Jungle at the Zoo—and beginning to hog all the attention!
BY Peggy Scott
Photography by Ken Bohn
“She stands on his back, pulls on his ears, nips at his legs, all kinds of normal pig communication. Females are typically in charge. He could certainly put a stop to things if he wanted to, but he’s so patient with her.”
Red river hogs can’t help turning heads—they certainly are eye-catching animals. The “fanciest” of the wild swine, these pretty African piggies sport reddish-brown coats with a white crest running along their spine. Both males and females have tusks, but the males’ tusks are larger. The red river hog’s most characteristic feature, however, has to be its long, cartoonish ears, tipped with tassel-like tufts. And that happens to be where Murphy and Mina stand out even among others of their species. Murphy’s ears were injured early in life so he doesn’t have ear tufts, and young Mina’s have yet to grow in. Even if they weren’t so unusual looking, however, the Zoo’s newest dynamic hog duo would somehow manage to get noticed.
“They are partners in crime—always on a ‘search-and-destroy,’ mischief mission,” says Kelly Elkins, a lead animal trainer with the Zoo’s Backstage Pass experience. “They are sometimes too smart for their own good. And Mina is always the ringleader!” Since they’ve joined forces, they seem adorably unstoppable.
Nine-year-old Murphy is well known to Zoo regulars. For several years, he hammed it up in shows at Hunte Amphitheater. His stage career earned him quite a loyal following. “He has a fan club,” Kelly admits. “People visit him every day.” These days, his admirers will notice that Murphy’s act has expanded to include his partner.
Wilhelmina (“Mina” to her friends) came to the Zoo from the Safari Park, where she was hand-raised, along with her brother, “Iggy the Piggy.” With her outgoing nature and obvious star quality, Mina was the logical choice when Backstage Pass had an opening for a new cast member. Because this species is social—like most wild pigs—keepers thought the spirited little hog would make a good companion for Murphy, who could use a pal. But their initial meeting didn’t go quite as planned. “She was only five months old when she came here,” Kelly explains. “And so when they were introduced, she went over and tried to nurse from him. He froze and gave us the funniest ‘what is going on?’ look. But he was such a good sport.”
Awkward first impressions aside, the hogs are settling into cozy cohabitation, napping together and happily sharing food—an herbivore diet of pellets, root vegetables, greens, and grass hay. Fruit, a special treat, is saved to camouflage medicine, should that need arise. Murphy is quite fond of yams and carrots, but Mina seems content with her pellets.
As with all relationships, there has been a bit of compromise. Mina is one-third Murphy’s size, but she is 100 percent in charge. “She rules the roost, and established that early on,” Kelly says. “She stands on his back, pulls on his ears, nips at his legs, all kinds of normal pig communication stuff. Female are typically in charge. He could certainly put a stop to things if he wanted to, but he’s so patient with her.” Which isn’t to say he doesn’t let his feelings be known—or at least that’s what his keepers think. “She had been really active one day, and when we came in the next morning, we saw Murphy had bumped one of the food tubs up against the door of their little log cabin, sort of ‘locking’ her in. We laughed about it and said he probably got a good night’s sleep that day!”
“Mina loves her walks with her keepers. She always wants ‘her’ people with her.”
Snout and About
For these intelligent animals, stimulation and enrichment are crucial. They play elaborate games of hide-and-seek with their keepers: “They hide things—like pool drains—in their exhibit and we try to find them,” Kelly explains. Murphy and Mina also enjoy strolls through the Zoo—accompanied, of course. “Mina loves her walks with her keepers,” Kelly says. “She always wants ‘her’ people with her.” Murphy, on the other hand (or hoof), is always widening his social circle. “He loves when Sophia and Zari, the miniature Mediterranean donkey and Grant’s zebra that live nearby in Urban Jungle, stop by on their walks to the animal ambassador area. He greets them through the fence at the front of his enclosure, and then turns his rump around, hoping they’ll give him a little scratch.”
With their distinct—and different—personalities, Murphy and Mina might be a perfect pig pair. “She’s so active and has such a nose for trouble, and he is such a sweet pig,” Kelly says, fondly. “They are turning into BFFs, though. They move stuff around in their exhibit together, nap together, forage together.” Sounds like a match made in hog heaven!