Photograph by Markus Scholz, picture-alliance/dpa/AP
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The boar nuzzles one of its newfound buddies in October.

Photograph by Markus Scholz, picture-alliance/dpa/AP

Why a Wild Pig Befriended a Herd of Cows

Pigs are more intelligent than we give them credit for, expert says.


This is some pig: A wild boar is a celebrity in Germany after joining a small herd of cows on a farm near Hamburg.

Farmer Dirk Reese has watched the bristly interloper—which he calls Banana—integrate into the herd over the last couple of months, according to news reports. The cows seem unbothered by the new addition, and the boar acts right at home among them.

Much of what we hear these days about wild boar is bad news, about their invasive and destructive nature as their populations spread across the U.S. and Europe.

But in this case, the animal is doing no harm—and its intelligence and need for companionship may explain why it decided to join the herd.

Smart and Sociable

“One thing we’ve learned about pigs [both wild and domestic] is that they are very socially complex,” says Lori Marino, executive director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy in Utah.

“In the wild they live in a social group—a male will be with several females, their babies, and immature males. And in captivity we’ve seen time and again that housing them alone makes them very unhappy. When you put them together, they get the stimulation they need and just blossom.”

Pigs are also every bit as intelligent as dogs, she says. (Also see "Picky Pigs Take Washing Certain Foods Seriously.")

“We don’t know why this [boar] is alone, but clearly it left the forest and latched on to whomever it could find,” she says. “Pigs are smart; this one knew what it was doing.”

Omni the Rhino and Digby the Warthog This warthog knows how to play with his best friend, a black rhino.

Cows, also very social, may be brighter bulbs than once thought, too, she says.

“There’s more going on there than you’d think; they’re not just a bunch of big animals with their heads down, chewing grass.” They develop friendships, hold grudges, and have excellent memories, for example.

"Cute Little Mistake"

Another reason the boar-and-cow family seems to jibe is they're similar creatures.

As ungulates—hooved mammals—there's some overlap in behavior. “It’s not like a pig hanging around with a lion,” Marino says.

Boar also munch grass, but mostly they root around for underground snacks, which means competition for food isn’t really an issue for this mixed group. (See "Why We Love—And Loathe—The Humble Pig.")

“It’s a cute little mistake, but it also shows how socially flexible these animals are. Everyone is getting something out of the relationship.”