Pigs Have Been Spotted Using Tools For The First Time

Following in the footsteps of the dolphin, chimpanzee and sea otter, the humble pig has been observed getting handy on the tools, researchers say.

A family of critically endangered Visayan warty pigs were captured using sticks to dig and build nests, in what is so far the first recorded evidence of swine using tools.

According to a study in the journal Mammalian Biology, conservation ecologist Meredith Root-Bernstein witnessed the handiwork at a Parisian zoo.

Root-Bernstein and her colleagues visited the Musée de l’Homme multiple times between 2015 and 2017, where three pigs used tools to dig and prepare nests for incoming piglets.

Visayan warty pigs -- small, forest-dwelling animals best-known for the male's mohawk hairstyle -- usually build a nest in the dirt in which to give birth.

Mama pig, Priscilla, was the stand-out master-craftsman in the family.

"She would deposit some leaves, move them to a different spot on the mound, and dig a bit with her nose," Root-Bernstein wrote in her observations.

"At one point she picked up a flat piece of bark about 10 cm x 40 cm that was lying on that mound, and holding it in her mouth, used it to dig, lifting and pushing the soil backwards, quite energetically and rapidly."

The behaviour -- which can be seen in a video captured by the team -- was observed among Priscilla, her mate Billie, and their two offspring, a total of 11 times by researchers.

Visayan Warty Pig in the forest in the wild. Image: Getty

Root-Bernstein acknowledged the study's data set is small, and the fact the pigs are kept in captivity could cause them to act differently than in the wild.

While their wild population is unknown, there are only about 300 Visayan warty pigs left in captivity.

Devastating levels of deforestation in the Philippines' West Visayas islands has left the animal on the critically endangered list, now found in small areas of just two of the six islands they once inhabited.

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The idea of pigs using tools for their own benefit was virtually non-existent before Root-Bernstein's findings, though it's not uncommon in several other species.

From crows carving hooks at the end of twigs so they can reach insects hiding in tricky-to-reach places, to otters using rocks to crack open prey, tool use is a long-studied field.

Root-Bernstein is particularly interested in the area because it may highlight a common evolutionary history between humans and certain animals.

“It brings us closer to animals,” she told National Geographic.

"And helps us realise it’s all connected.”