A kunekune piglet. (Photo: Getty Images)

Kunekune, the New Zealand pigs Chris Pratt calls the ‘best birthday present ever’

The Aotearoa-born breed is having a moment in the spotlight, thanks to The Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Peter Quill.

Kunekune pigs are great and all, but why should I care about them now?

A big overseas celebrity has mentioned them – why else? Newlyweds Chris Pratt and Katherine Schwarzenegger have welcomed two kunekune pigs into the Friendly Kingdom, the couple’s farm menagerie for rescued (sorry, “pardoned”) animals. The pigs have been dubbed Tim and Faith, in honour of the “palpable and inspiring” love of county music superstars Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.

 

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Thank you Katherine for my new pet Kune-Kune pigs!!! Best birthday present ever!! We named them Tim and Faith because they’re beautiful and their love is palpable and inspiring. I love them and can’t wait to watch them grow. And no they will not be bacon! They are the newest members of the Friendly Kingdom, select animals including sheep, goats, and pigs who we’ve pardoned. They will spend their entire lives thriving at the farm, until they pass naturally many, many years from now. Historically our relationship with animals has taught us so many valuable life lessons- ranging from the harsh realities of the cycle of life to the rewards of compassion, stewardship, love and care. #godbless #friendlykingdom #farmlife

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“Kunekune” – that’s Māori, right?

Indeed it is. The pig breed, while obviously not native, has been closely connected with New Zealand since the early 1800s, when whaling ships likely brought the kunekune’s ancestors to these shores. It’s still unclear where its genealogical roots lie – as the NZ Kunekune Association says, “pigs with similar characteristics occur in Asia, South America, and the Polynesian Islands, but the resemblance is slight and suggestive only of a possible common ancestry.” Whatever its history, this new arrival was soon named “kunekune” which means “fat and round” in Māori.

But a pig is a pig. What’s so special about this breed?

Far be it from us to make any young pig feel body conscious, but let’s start with their appearance. The kunekune is relatively small, with long hair that can be wiry or straight. With their short snouts, portly bodies and fat little legs, they’ve something of a Churchillian mien – think of them as the bulldog of the porcine world. Most kunekune also sport cute little tassels under their chins called “piri piri”. Nobody knows what they’re for.

But cuteness will only get you so far. The reason why kunekune have become so popular among pet owners is their extremely friendly, affectionate and docile nature. Give her lots of tummy scratches and some delicious food, and your kunekune will be as sweet as pie. A note about that food though: kunekune are true grazing animals and need only good quality pasture to survive. Feed them too much and they’ll get obese, fast.

So how many kunekune are there in New Zealand?

While the exact number is unknown, the New Zealand kunekune population is in its thousands – and that’s almost entirely thanks to two men, Michael Willis and John Simister. In 1978 the purebred population was at an all-time low of around 50. Faced with the real prospect of the kunekune dying out entirely, Willis and Simister, who both ran wildlife reserves in Christchurch, joined together to start an organised breeding programme – and ended up saving the breed from extinction.

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OK, I want one. What do I do?

First things first: check whether you’re allowed to keep pigs. Local bylaws vary from region to region, and you don’t want to set up a home for your kunekune only to see it confiscated. Remember what we said about kunekune being grazers? That means a lot of grass, so make sure you have enough to keep them fed. If at all possible, buy two pigs together – they’re sociable creatures, and a human can only give so much attention to an outside animal – and if you’re planning on breeding, make sure your kunekune have piri piri, to ensure the survival of this unique breed trait.

And remember that while kunekune are smaller than other breeds, they still grow to the size of a large (and fat) dog – if you’re in the market for a ‘teacup pig’, this isn’t the breed for you. The NZ Kunekune Association has excellent information and advice for any prospective kunekune owner.


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