China Is Breeding Giant Pigs the Size of Polar Bears



China Is Breeding Giant Pigs the Size of Polar Bears

A visitor rides on the 750-kilogram pig at a farm in Zhengzhou city, Henan province.
A visitor rides on the 750-kilogram pig at a farm in Zhengzhou city, Henan province.Source: Imagine china via AP Photo

In a farm deep in the southern region of China lives a very big pig that’s as heavy as a polar bear.

The 500 kilogram, or 1,102 pound, animal is part of a herd that’s being bred to become giant swine. At slaughter, some of the pigs can sell for more than 10,000 yuan ($1,399), over three times higher than the average monthly disposable income in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi province where Pang Cong, the farm’s owner, lives.

While Pang’s pigs may be an extreme example of the lengths farmers are going to fill China’s swelling pork shortage problem, the idea that bigger is better has been spreading across the country, home to the world’s most voracious consumers of the meat.

READ: The Deadly Virus That’s Killing Off Millions of Pigs: QuickTake

High pork prices in the northeastern province of Jilin is prompting farmers to raise pigs to reach an average weight of 175 kilograms to 200 kilograms, higher than the normal weight of 125 kilograms. They want to raise them “as big as possible,”said Zhao Hailin, a hog farmer in the region.

The trend isn’t limited to small farms either. Major protein producers in China, including Wens Foodstuffs Group Co, the country’s top pig breeder, Cofco Meat Holdings Ltd. and Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co. say they are trying to increase the average weight of their pigs. Big farms are focusing on boosting the heft by at least 14%, said Lin Guofa, a senior analyst with consulting firm Bric Agriculture Group.

The average weight of pigs at slaughter at some large-scale farms has climbed to as much as 140 kilograms, compared with about 110 kilograms normally, Lin said. That could boost profits by more than 30%, he said.

The large swine are being bred during a desperate time for China. With African swine fever decimating the nation’s hog herd — in half, by some estimates — prices of pork have soared to record levels, leading the government to urge farmers to boost production to temper inflation.

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Chinese Vice Premier Hu Chunhua warned that the supply situation will be “extremely severe” through to the first half of 2020. China will face a pork shortage of 10 million tons this year, more than what’s available in global trade, meaning it needs to increase production domestically, he said.

During a recent visit to major livestock provinces of Shandong, Hebei and Henan, Hu urged local governments to resume pig production as soon possible, with a target of returning to normal levels next year.

Still, many farmers are wary about restocking swine after being hurt by an earlier outbreak. Also, piglet and breeding sow prices have surged, making it more expensive for backyard farms to afford rebuilding their herds. Increasing the size of pigs they already own may be the next best step.

— With assistance by Shuping Niu, Jeff Black, and Alfred Cang

Deadly critters — 5 animals you should avoid



Deadly critters — 5 animals you should avoid

As the Latin proverb goes, Homo homini lupus – “man is wolf to man,” which is rather unfortunate as wolves are also wolves to men. Sitting in the kind embrace of modern civilization, it’s easy to forget a lineage fraught with fears of bloodthirsty creatures hidden in the dark.

Tool usage and organized social behaviors landed humanity a spot as the apex predator of the animal kingdom across the globe early on in our history, but there are still many creatures that prove a substantial threat under the wrong circumstances. While humans killing humans is a significant source of death around the world, it “only” accounted for about 560,000 deaths in 2016 — a number that pales in comparison to a single entry on the list of deadly animals.

Polar bears

Credit: ryasick / iStock

Most animals attack humans intruding upon their territory as an instinctual act of self-preservation. Though many of these attacks prove deadly, it’s rare that other predators seek out human beings as prey. Polar bears, on the other hand, are one of the few animal species that will attack human beings for food, if desperate. Lacking an instinctual fear of humans due to a lack of natural exposure, polar bears see humans as an easily overpowered small mammal, and attacks often prove fatal.


Credit: TimothyBall / iStock

Emus do not prey on humans but are characterized by a curiosity towards people moving in their surroundings as they may follow us simply to observe. Emus have earned a spot on the list as tenacious opponents of human conquest. In the winter of 1932, Australian settlers found acquired lands encroached upon by emu migrations numbering in the tens of thousands. The large presence of emus made agriculture nearly impossible and sparked what was known as “The Great Emu War.” Machine guns, bounties, and organized parties proved no match for the flightless birds, who regularly evaded attacks and left settlers with an awkward truce and miles of barrier fencing.

Funnel-web spiders

Credit: ShaftInAction / iStock

The list wouldn’t be complete without due respect to the many deadly creatures of the Outback or one of the most common human fears. Australian funnel-web spiders are the most toxic species of spiders. These arachnids are attracted to water and are often found near swimming pools. Most attacks result from the aggression of wandering males, and the bite of an Australian funnel-web spider can kill a child in hours or an adult in one day. Funnel-web spiders were a significant cause of death during early human colonization of their habitats, though anti-venom treatments are fast and effective. Since the widespread availability of funnel-web anti-venom, no deaths have been reported.


Credit: nattanan726 / iStock

“River horses” are aquatic herbivores that live in herds. The dense mammals are so heavy that they can walk underwater. Hippopotamus calves are frequent targets of crocodiles, and adults have been observed engaging in anti-predator behaviors. In combination with the fierce territoriality of bulls, these behaviors make the creatures a substantial threat to wandering and fishing humans, with death tolls ranging from 500 to 3,000 per year. Hippopotamuses are most dangerous when they perceive threats to their young or the females are in heat.


Credit: nechaev-kon / iStock

The deadliest creature to human beings doesn’t bear fangs, claws, or a machine gun but, rather, fragile wings and a thread-like proboscis. A 2016 report from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation showed that mosquitoes are responsible for the largest number of human deaths related to animals. Carrying diseases as diverse as dengue fever and Zika virus, the most lethal disease that mosquitoes spread in the developing world is malaria with approximately 212 million cases in 2015 and 429,000 deaths.

Did cruise ship guards have to kill polar bear?



Did cruise ship guards have to kill polar bear? Experts say maybe — but blame climate change

by Kalhan Rosenblatt / 

A dead polar bear lies on the beach in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago on July 28, 2018. Norwegian authorities said the polar bear was shot after it attacked and injured a polar guard who was protecting a group of tourists from a cruise ship.Gustav Busch Arntsen / Scanpix via AFP – Getty Images

A German cruise line has received a wave of backlash after its crew members shot and killed a polar bear that had attacked a guard whose job it was to spot and prevent interactions with the animal.

The cruise, a Hapag-Lloyd ship called the MS Bremen, was traveling near the northernmost island of the Svalbard archipelago, between mainland Norway and the North Pole, had intended to show the bears off to a group of tourists — and it appears guards on the vessel attempted to scare the bear off before resorting to lethal force, officials said.

Police spokesman Ole Jakob Malmo told the Associated Press that two members of the Bremen’s 12-man crew that set out ahead of tourists on Saturday first tried to ward off the bear “by shouting and making loud noises as well as firing a signal pistol, but to no effect.”

In a statement, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises had said the attack happened when a four-person bear guard team, went on land ahead of the tour.

“One of the guards was unexpectedly attacked by a polar bear that had not been spotted and he was unable to react himself. As the attempts of the other guards to evict the animal, unfortunately, were not successful, there had to be intervention for reasons of self-defense and to protect the life of the attacked person,” the statement said. The guard who was injured is in stable condition, according to Hapag-Lloyd Cruises spokesman Moritz Krause.

Experts warn that, as climate change continues to shrink the polar bear’s habitat, the animals are finding themselves face-to-face with humans more often.

“With climate change there’s a lot less sea ice and bears have to spend a lot more time on land. There is definitely more chance of interaction between people and bears,” said Sybille Klenzendorf, senior biologist and senior species expert for the World Wildlife Fund.

“And this is not just for tourism. This is for communities, this is for industry, anybody operating and living in the Arctic has this chance of higher encounters so we have to be prepared in a preventive and proactive manner to prevent conflict with polar bears,” she noted.

Experts told NBC News that in most cases guards have and are able to use a host of methods to deescalate bear encounters before resorting to killing the animal.

“Deterrent methods are extremely successful,” said Brian Horner, the founder and director of LTR Training Solutions in Anchorage, Alaska, which includes bear-guard instruction.

Horner said there are several steps guards can take before killing the animal. A guard who sees a bear can first try to shoot a projectile firework that will cause a bang and scare the animal off, although this requires a precise shot in order to scare the bear backwards rather than forward. Guards also must take care not to start a fire with the flare, Horner said.

Guards can also use a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with blank rounds.

“All it does is make the shotgun make a really big bang. We like those, but our clients don’t like them because it’s 161 decibels, and if you’re not ready, you’re going to have an ear ache,” Horner said.

The next line of defense is rubber bullets before a final non-lethal option: bean bag projectiles. But they can be risky.

“When you’re using bean bags, you’re so close that if it decides it doesn’t like the bean bag, it’s going to run toward you,” Horner said of polar bears.

Klenzendorf said that there are specific rules of engagement that cruise lines are supposed to follow in the region where the killing happened over the weekend, and that polar bear guards are required to limit the chance of interaction between humans and bears. But even to the trained eye, in the Arctic, it’s not an easy task.

“It’s very hard sometimes in the arctic environment to actually see them,” Klenzendorf said of polar bears.

Horner agreed that it can be a challenge for bear guards to spot the animals.

“Polar bears are smart. They’re really smart … and they have to hunt a lot. Polar bears go from curious to interested quickly,” Horner said, adding that “polar bears are sneaky” and likely crept up on the guards.

Fortunately, Klenzendorf said, polar bear guards don’t often end up having fatal interactions with the animals.

“Given that it’s only been the second bear in 20 years of the cruising industry in Svalbard that has been killed, it shows there must be high standards that are being followed for interactions,” she said.