Mistaken identity

A new addition to the Biblical Zoo may look like a pig, but fear not - it isn't.

muk hog (photo credit: Stuart Winer)
muk hog
(photo credit: Stuart Winer)
What looks like a pig but is not a pig? The answer, it seems, is a collared peccary, a new addition to the menagerie of the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. The peccary is easily mistaken for a pig at first glance because it shares so many features with the average porker. Peccaries have a short snout and split hooves, as well as the thick body shape of pigs and almost no tail. However, not only are they not pigs, they are not even of the same species. In fact, despite their apparent similarity, peccaries and pigs differ in the number of toes they have, the structure of their digestive systems, their dental structure, and a scent gland that peccaries use as a defensive measure. The zoo is eager to bring the differences between the two look-alikes to the attention of a public that might otherwise be alarmed at the apparent appearance of the iconic non-kosher animal in a "biblical" zoo. A sign at the peccary exhibit lists all the differences in two languages to avoid any dismay among visitors. Peccaries are found in regions across North, Central, and Southern America, where they roam the forests feeding on fruits, nuts, roots and small invertebrates. Mellow-natured, they often live peacefully alongside human settlements and usually ignore people. Yet they are armed with long, sharp tusks and powerful jaws that can deliver a ferocious bite if the animal feels threatened. In addition, when they are threatened, a unique scent gland releases a powerful musk-like smell. This feature has earned the peccary the nickname of "musk hog" in some places. The zoo now has four females that have settled into their new home unperturbed. However, two male peccaries are due to arrive in the coming weeks, and keepers are uncertain how they will be received. Although the females have so far enjoyed each other's company, the presence of the males may trigger an element of competition as they vie for the attention of a prospective mate. Keepers are hoping that when the dating game starts, the peccaries don't act like pigs.