The swimming pigs have become globally recognised as a part of the Bahamian tourism market.
People from around the world come to visit the famous Exuma pigs, and with that global spotlight comes the obvious concern that the pigs are treated well.
And so our eye turns to Grand Bahama. An expanding business there has 19 pigs for tourists to encounter during their stay – but far from being in a natural environment, the pigs are kept on a rock in the middle of the sea.
Worse still, the only shelter they appear to have is a low structure of breeze block and wood. There are no trees, no undergrowth, nothing to form any kind of break from high seas or strong winds in bad weather. You can see the pictures on page three in today’s Tribune. The pigs do not appear able to roam free – not that there’s much of anywhere to roam where they are kept – and are only brought out when tourists appear before being packed away again.
Their treatment has already drawn international disapproval, with one Canadian blogger calling the experience “heartbreaking”.
She makes it clear the location is very different from the famed operation in Exuma, but if someone says they have had a bad experience with the swimming pigs in The Bahamas, how many listeners are going to check which pigs are being talked about?
“These poor pigs are kept in a crate about a (kilometre) off the actual beach,” she said, before adding the employees of the company could be seen throwing the pigs into the water, even in huge waves.
“They were fighting for their lives, and people are just trying to take photos with them, it was horrible,” she said.
Local animal rights activists at the Grand Bahama Humane Society echo the concern. “These pigs are on a rock, not a cay and not an island, a rock surrounded by water and opened to all sorts of adverse conditions including sea swells, waves and inclement weather.”
The business itself, of course, sings a different song, with operator Barbara Darville saying the pigs are “taken care of”, but dismissing the concerns as just the “reality” of running a business involving animals, and worryingly saying “you can’t get lost in the animal rights talk”.
When your business is based on animals, then you should want nothing but the best in animal rights. That doesn’t sound like there’s any desire to improve the conditions the animals are kept in.
If voices repeatedly raise concerns, if these are both local voices and those of disgusted customers, then surely one should listen.
The first priority is the health of these animals, and with it, the continued health of the tourism industry itself. A customer who has a bad experience will tell their family, their friends and suddenly you have a host of people put off from coming.
Of course, there should be legal measures in place to protect such animals – but the Animal Protection and Control Act seems to be going nowhere fast, so what happens in the meantime?
If businesses involving animals are not properly looking after the creatures they make their money from, then they should be shut down until they do. There is no reason to keep animals locked up in such a small space and only released to perform for visitors. There is no reason not to provide a proper environment for the animals to thrive in if they are the foundation of your business.
Fix it now – or shut up shop.