BAHAMAS: The Swimming Pigs of Big Major Cay

Bahamas Swimming Pigs Major Cay

A Handome Profile Against the Bahamas Horizon

BAHAMAS: The Swimming Pigs of Big Major Cay

 

In the Bahamas, the swimming pigs on Big Major Cay have become one of the most popular tourist attractions of the remote region known as the Exumas. That bizarre fact alone was enough to get my attention when we headed there last month to visit EMBRACE, a new sustainable eco-resort  being built on the tiny nearby island of Staniel Cay.

 

But, of course, the story isn’t quite that simple. How did the pigs get on the island? Who put them there? And why don’t the locals eat them, when each adult pig is big enough to feed a family for weeks? 

 

Bahamas Swimming pig Major Cay

One of Big Major Cay’s Residents Swims Out to Greet Us

 

Like many quirky tourist attractions, the swimming pigs are surrounded by colorful local legends.

 

One rumor suggests that the pigs’ ancestors were dropped off on Big Major Cay (colloquially known as Pig Island) by sailors who planned to eat them upon their return, and that the pigs survived on food waste jettisoned overboard by passing ships. Another says that the pigs swam to the island after surviving a shipwreck.

 

But the truth of the pigs’ origin was explained to us over breakfast by EMBRACE owner Nicole Ferguson, whose family has lived on tiny Staniel Cay (population 110) for over 100 years.

 

Bahamas Major Cay Happy Swimming Pig

Doesn’t she look happy (and hungry)?

 

According to Nicki, the swimming pigs’ story dates back to the early ’90s. One of her father’s friends kept pigs at his home. Unfortunately, as anyone who’s ever spent time on a farm can attest, pigs stink like the dickens, and his neighbors complained. So the men decided to relocate them to uninhabited Big Major Cay, just a short boat ride away.

 

The pigs were left there to roam free, and gradually began to multiply. Periodically, the men would head over to the island, pick the fattest pig for slaughter, and sell the meat to locals for their big Sunday Supper. For a remote island  with no grocery stores to speak of, it was an ingenious entrepreneurial idea

 

Bahamas Swimming Pig lettuce

Lettuce Was Clearly NOT the Pigs’ First Choice in Snacks

 

…and then the tourists came. This part of the Exumas isn’t exactly what you’d call a hotspot for typical Caribbean travelers (i.e. no cruise ships here). But Staniel Cay attracts a fair number of private yachts with its remote location and picturesque beauty.

 

Once people discovered  these somewhat domesticated pigs hanging out on the beach, they began feeding them. The pigs, being pigs, greatly enjoyed being fed. Next thing you know, they’re swimming out to greet the seemingly endless stream of boats that swing by the island to see them. And, swimming pigs being something of a curious anomaly, word got around about this tiny little island in the middle of nowhere. 

 

A Flock of Seagulls Tries to Hone in on the Pigs' Action... I Ran

A Flock of Seagulls Tries to Hone in on the Pigs’ Action… I Ran

 

Needless to say, when we visited Big Major Cay with our friends Angie Away, The Planet D and Uncommon Caribbean, we were tickled pink by these porcine Michael Phelps. As soon as they hear the motor, the pigs come running out from the shade and splashing into the sea, swimming as fast as their little legs can carry them. The sight seems both adorable and utterly ludicrous. 

 

Our boat driver had brought a bag filled with stale bread, lettuce and scraps of fruit. As he began passing out treats for people to feed the pigs with, I jumped in the water with my camera to get some shots while Mary got the GoPro rolling. It should be noted that these hungry pigs can be pushy– it’s called “pigging out” for a very good reason– so it’s very important not to put your hand near their mouths, or run with food in your hands. But my cousin’s family kept pigs when I was growing up, and I felt pretty confident about getting close-ups since I didn’t have any food for them.

 

 

A good friend of ours (and fellow wildlife lover) expressed concern about this post today, saying that “Feral pigs are a huge threat to local ecosystems.”

 

There have been research papers saying that feral pigs are a big problem facing the Conservation of Amphibians & Reptiles in the Bahamas, as they’re apt to compete for resources, alter habitat structure and quality, and prey on native species. One study our friend referenced even suggested that, “More studies need to be conducted to quantify the impacts of feral pigs, and efforts must be made to eliminate or reduce population sizes whenever possible.”

 

Bahamas Mayjor Cay Swimming Pigs Big Mama

Big Mama Pig Ponders How Our Camera Will Taste

 

But, from our perspective, these pigs aren’t feral (or wild) at all. While they may not be kept in a pen, they’re surrounded and fed by humans virtually all day. There was so much food that the pigs couldn’t eat it all, with heaping piles of lettuce, bread and carrot scraps all over the beach. So why would the swimming pigs have any need or desire to hunt for amphibians or reptiles?

 

The bigger issue, in our eyes, was the tourists. We saw several whose hands got uncomfortably close to the pigs’ sharp teeth. One family, apparently tired of the mama pig standing close by in hopes of getting a handout, began throwing rocks at her in an effort to chase her off. As more and more tourists begin to discover this off-the-beaten-path island paradise, guides will need to become more vigilant if they want to avoid ugly human-animal encounters.

 

Green Global Travel; Uncommon Caribbean & The Planet D

A Great Day With Friends on Big Major Cay

 

Regardless, we had a blast during both of our visits with the swimming pigs of Big Major Cay, which was admittedly one of the weirder ecotourism attractions we’ve ever visited. With cute critters, good friends, and AMAZING scenery, it was definitely one of our favorite memories from our time in the Bahamas.  –by Bret Love; photos & video by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

 

If you enjoyed our story on the Swimming Pigs of Big Major Cay, you might also like:  

ARUBA- Top Eco Attractions

BAHAMAS: Embrace Resort, Exumas

BAHAMAS- Top 10 Attractions

BARBADOS-7 Must-See Sights

BERMUDA- Photo Essay

 

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  1. * If someone writes a version of Charlotte’s Web based in Grand Exuma, that’s only going to magnify the legend.

    * Mmmm, Bahamian Bacon and conch fritters … or a conch burger with slices of Bahamian Bacon … or peas n’ rice, made with Bahamian Bacon … C’mon, someone’s gotta get on the marketing!

    * Or not …

  2. I’d read about these piggies before and seen photos of encounters but never heard the background on how they got there in the first place. Thanks for filling us in! Since it doesn’t seem like anyone in particular is “in charge” of tourists’ interaction with the pigs, do you think it will be up to local guides, then, to keep things under control? Are the Exumas still remote enough there are a limited number of tour operators in the area? Interesting post. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Interesting and thought-provoking post; I too was wondering about the wildlife and the tourists. I have to say though…..I luuuurve pigs!

  4. What a fascinating film and post – thanks! Sad to hear the usual animal/tourist interaction problems. Too often tourists see animal encounters as purely entertainment, not thinking about lasting damage from encouraging pigs, chucking non-nutritional food at them (or as mentioned here, a lot worse…). Hopefully local guides can take control for the benefit of the pigs and indigenous wildlife.

  5. Damn, those pigs look mighty happy! This is a very fun post and a great story. One island in Hawaii is covered in a rooster and chicken outbreak after a hurricane broke their pens and they multiplied. Now there are even rooster crossings!

    But yes, the guides really need to get very vigilant if they want to keep this quirky attraction safe and ethical, it’s a shame those people were throwing rocks.

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  8. I just hope there will be zero tolerance of tourists who try to throw rocks (as you mentioned) or harm the pigs. It’s a novelty, for sure, that would be fun to see and participate in, as long as it’s controlled by the guides.

  9. I totally see why the pigs are a tourist attraction. Who wouldn’t want to see swimming pigs?! Sad that tourists were throwing rocks at them to chase them off though. Hopefully people will be respectful when visiting the swimming pigs.

  10. Great explanation of what the experience was like. It was cool to see the pigs. I missed the story by Nikki about how they got there. Her version seems much more realistic than the pirates and shipwreck story, but they do make for a more fun story to pass along don’t they 🙂

  11. How very bizarre! I must admit I’d love to see these swimming pigs but like any animal encounter, too many tourists, always puts the animals and the environment at risk and the last thing I’d want to do is sit on a beach surrounded mounds of rotten vegetables!

    I suggest everyone who reads this post takes a vow of secrecy and we just keep it between ourselves!!
    Kathryn Burrington recently posted..Taking the fast route – confessions of a cruise virgin!My Profile

    • It was pretty spectacular, but you’ve gotta be careful. The pigs get really excited about the food, so if you feed them (which we did not) you have to be careful with your fingers.

  12. I’m wondering how many of you and the thousands of tourist that feed these beautiful intelligent souls have made the connection that they are loving, living, breathing sentient that only wish to live and not be oppressed?? Meaning that we have no right to kill and eat them. Let them and all live a long and beautiful life, not just pigs either.

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  15. I love the swimming pigs! Funnily, no-one ever believes me when I tell them about them – how they’ll happily swim up to approaching boats 🙂 But I do agree that often tourists can be a problem when it comes to any wildlife and how they are treated/react to certain situations. Can’t believe someone was actually throwing rocks at them 🙁

  16. Surely one of the most unique and quirky places in the world. I have been to the Bahamas a couple of times and the people are fantastic there. I imagine getting to this island is still quite expensive for the average tourist but I would still like to see these lucky pigs. They are as exuberant as they should be!