Tag Archives: kune kune pig

More Pig Information, Even If You Didn’t Want It

I’m constantly amazed at the number of contemporaries who want to return to some mythical “simpler time”. I’m not even talking about the people who want to go back to a time before their births, on the assumption that somehow they’d fit in better in Athenian Greece or a week before Woodstock. (Sadly, they never want to take a chance and go back far enough to make a difference.) These are people who lived through the 1970s and 1980s, and conveniently forget the horrors therein. They’re welcome to go back, but I have no interest in anything other than the future. Live through Pearl Jam playing incessantly on terrestrial radio, a second time? Not a chance. I regularly joke “I love living in the future,” and I’m only half-joking.

This week confirmed how much I prefer living in the future, and it all had to do with a prior discussion of kune kune pigs in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Twenty years ago, even learning about kune kune pigs would have been nearly impossible in the States without traveling to New Zealand. Today, one quick note, and the horizon keeps expanding. Within a week, I received comments from two very interesting folks with a similar fascination with the little pigs. The first lives in the States but came from New Zealand, and currently waits for access to a soon-to-be-born piglet. The other managed to pass on a lot more information on the pig in the movie.

One of the things that came up while verifying the story was that one shouldn’t always depend upon one reference source. For instance, the information I previously obtained referred to the pig breed as “kune kune”, and apparently there’s some argument as to whether the proper spelling should be “kune kune” or “kunekune”. (Yes, welcome to the joys of trying to transcribe non-English words to the Roman alphabet.) This is in addition to arguments about the kunekune’s origins: some sources attribute the first pigs’ appearance in Aotearoa to Captain James Cook’s first visit in 1769, while others suggest that the first arrival of pigs to the islands is unknown. (All that’s known for certain is that while pigs were probably one of the main food animals brought by the first Polynesian colonists about 1000 years ago, for unknown reasons, they didn’t survive for long.) Twenty years ago, tracking this down from the States would have been impossible.

Even better is comparing notes right away. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a thing on the identity of the pig in The Desolation of Smaug through movie publicity materials or sources, but figured that half of the fun was keeping the in-joke “in”. That’s when someone else wrote to say that the pig in question was named “Hercules”, and Hercules was one of the major draws at the Willowbank Wildlife Refuge in Christchurch. He’s already a celebrity in New Zealand, especially after he and his mate Minnie had their first litter of piglets in 2010, but that movie appearance was his first serious exposure in the rest of the world.

This, of course, needs to be rectified. Online humanity goes absolutely berserk over Grumpy Cat, and yet there’s no love for Hercules? I’ll be back: I have work to do.

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…