Socio-cognitive abilities of domestic pigs, their ethical implications and medical indicators of well-being

Pigs are very social animals. They live communally, learn from one another, imitate and are thus capable of acting strategically. Scientists from the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna systematically observe the behaviour of the pigs living at the Haidlhof Research Station (e.g. via video analysis), and conduct controlled experiments on their intelligence.

Additionally, the welfare and the stress load of the pigs are investigated. To this end, researchers take saliva samples from the pigs. They use cotton swabs for the non-invasive (i.e. not requiring surgery) extraction of the samples.

The results of these investigations are ethically reflected. That is to say that they are viewed in a context of elevated importance, in particular in relation to their relevance for the human-animal relationship and animal ethics.

Biologists, veterinary and human medical practitioners, as well as philosophers are collaborating on this project. The insights gained are intended to lead to a better understanding of these animals, their capabilities and their consequent needs.

The pigs require a natural, challenging and varied surrounding. Only in such an environment  their capabilities can be displayed to their full potential and their development facilitated. Hence, the approx. 22 Kune Kune pigs live out the full duration of their natural lives in social cohabitation in pastures – a so-called matriline consisting of three females and their offspring.

The Kune Kune pigs and their husbandry
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A project by the Messerli Research Institute – funded by the Messerli Foundation

Project leader: Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Ludwig Huber
Doctoral student: Vet, Dipl. Ing. Agr. Marianne Wondrak
Project partners: Prof. Erika Jensen-Jarolim, Dr. Lisa-Maria Glenk (both Comparative Medicine)
Prof. Herwig Grimm, Dr. Judith Benz-Schwarzburg (both Ethics and Human-Animal Studies)

Messerli Research Institute
University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna
Veterinärplatz 1
1210 Vienna