Knowledge, Even If You Don’t Want It: The Kune Kune Pig Edition

There’s geekery, and then there’s geekery. Right now, all of my friends disposed toward a fondness for fantasy is lining up to see, if they haven’t already, the latest The Hobbit movie, The Desolation of Smaug. The Czarina and I got our obligation done early, thanks to a preview screening hosted by Keith’s Comics, and she had a blast. Me, I spent most of my time looking for New Zealand references and in-jokes, and found a beaut. Almost every person in the theater caught the cameo of director Peter Jackson at the beginning, but I was probably one of the only people in North America that evening who caught the other big cameo.

I meant that literally. Toward the end of the film, to give out spoilers, you have the dwarf Killi dying of poisoning from a goblin arrow, and his associate Bofur goes looking for the herb kingsfoil, and was told by Bard of Laketown “We feed it to pigs.” Bofur finally finds it in front of a pig and snatches it away, and the story, such as it is, continues. At that point, I had to stop and squeak at the Czarina, “Look! It’s a kune kune pig!”

As always, this sort of obscure knowledge comes with a long story. Nearly twenty years ago, my love of New Zealand, already fairly intense, was accelerated by the chance discovery of a copy of the book Exotic Intruders: The Introduction of Plants and Animals Into New Zealand by Joan Druett at a book fair. The book went into details on the Acclimatisation Societies charged with importing plants and animals to Aotearoa, including deliberate and accidental importations that ended disastrously.

For instance, the kakapo, the endangered giant flightless parrot second only to the kiwi as a symbol of the country, used to range in huge numbers across both main islands, at least before some well-meaning idiot introduced rabbits. The rabbits weren’t a direct threat to the kakapo, but then the rabbits came very close to taking over the way they did in Australia. Another well-meaning idiot imported stoats to hunt the rabbits, and the stoats had no interest in chasing rabbits when easier prey was available. Kakapo dug burrows as a defense against New Zealand’s original, now-extinct top predators, including the famed Haast’s eagle, so they had no defense against predators specifically adapted to hunting burrowing prey. Today, kakapo only live on islands completely free of predators, and the odds of their surviving the next century are very poor.

One of the other values of Exotic Intruders lies with it listing some particular success stories on the islands, and that’s where I first encountered the kune kune pig. A variation of the Poland China breed, the kune kune was bred by the Maori of New Zealand as both a food animal and as a pet. The name “kune kune” means “fat round belly,” which pretty much describes the pig: even full-grown kune kunes look more like piglets than anything else. They’re often mistaken for Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, but they’re easily recognized by one distinguishing characteristic: kune kunes have a tassel at the corner of each side of the lower jaw. The main reason for their popularity, though, comes from a particularly friendly and affable personality to go with their natural intelligence. Why they haven’t become at least as popular a pet as the Vietnamese potbellied pig is a mystery.

Well, that might be rectified in the near future, including here in the States, thanks to the American KuneKune Pig Society. At the very least, considering the various ordinances preventing ownership of farm animals within residential areas, it’s not going to be an option around the house, but one day…one day…

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5 responses to “Knowledge, Even If You Don’t Want It: The Kune Kune Pig Edition

  1. I went to the Hobbit today and did the same squeal. i have my name down for a KuneKune piglet to bring back to my farm in Illinois (I am from NZ you see) ..so I was able to show my american family what one looks like.. Love your plant pages!! c

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  2. That pig’s name was Hercules. He lived at Willowbank Wildlife Park in Christchurch for a long time and fathered heaps of babies. The owner of Willowbank managed to save the kune-kune breed after it nearly went extinct in the 1980s (there were an estimated 50 left) by putting the pigs in his wildlife park on display and breeding them. People who visited the park bought piglets and bred them and now you can easily buy a kune-kune piglet for cheap in NZ. I think its really cool that some Americans want to keep them as pets too. They just such sweet and intelligent animals :)

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