Rowden said local villagers tell him that the pheasants follow the pigs as they forage for things like tubers and bulbs. While foraging, the pigs roust grubs that the pheasants eat. The pheasants may also eat tuber and bulb scraps that the pigs leave behind.
Erik Meijaard is an expert on wild pigs, including the bearded pig, at the Australian National University in Canberra. He said he has "heard similar stories from villagers in various parts of Kalimantan but never actually witnessed pigs and pheasants together."
Rowden said the reasons for the association are scientifically unknown but that he and other researchers plan further studies. He noted that one hope lies with the government in the Malaysian province of Sarawak, on Borneo.
The government there is interested in learning more about the status of the bearded pig population. The reason is simple: The animal is a major staple of the local diet.
"They want to ensure such an important [food source] is protected ," Rowden said. "So it gives them an interest in studying pigs andexcuse the punI'm piggybacking on that to get more support for the Bulwer's [pheasant research]."
Meijaard, the Australian pig expert, said that bearded pigs are an underrated species in Borneo conservation efforts. "They are the most important source of animal protein in many inland communities, and when pig populations decline, there is a hunting shift to other, more endangered species like primates," he said.
Rowden's studies in Borneo, meanwhile, have yet to yield the magic something that compels captive Bulwer's pheasants to breed. However, he said his work has opened the door to a larger conservation project that he believes will help save Borneo's remaining rain forest.
"If we don't have a species [left] to show people [that] this is an amazingly cool bird, that's unfortunate," he said. "But we're doing good work on the ground protecting habitat, and that's ultimately what we're fighting for."
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