This lighthearted documentary series profiles
a range of remarkable animals from across the globe. This
instalment focuses on Nellie, a particularly intelligent pig who
has become something of a star owing to her remarkable
In September 1992, a pig was born on an Ohio
farm that stood out from the rest of its brood. Nellie, as she
was named, was energetic and inquisitive, constantly on the run,
and would eagerly gravitate towards people who entered the
farrowing room. At eight weeks of age, Nellie boarded a jet and
was flown across to Washington State to live with her new owners
– Priscilla and Steve Valentine.
Right away, it was clear that Nellie was a
different sort of pig. She did not sleep as much as other pigs,
and got bored easily. She was temperamental, sensitive and liked
to stay clean. Nellie seemed at her happiest when she was
learning or performing simple tasks – and spent much of her time
looking at her owners, as if to say, “What can we do next?”
When the Valentines began to teach Nellie
tricks, she caught on so quickly that it was a challenge to keep
her stimulated. While spending time in her own – pink-walled –
bedroom, she often played her miniature grand piano without
supervision, or whiled away the time pushing a golf ball into a
putting cup. Recognising Nellie’s star potential, Priscilla and
Steve launched her performing career.
After Nellie’s first appearance in front of an
audience, there was no going back. The pint-sized pig raced
across the stage chasing footballs, leaping through hoops and
playing to the audience’s enthusiastic applause.
Some years later, little has changed. The
piggy prima donna still has her own suburban bedroom, but it is
decorated with porcine publicity stills. The forty-pound Nellie
now has personal credit cards, and even receives fan mail.
This week’s Extraordinary Animals catches up
with Nellie at her Washington State home, before following her
to Fort Lewis army base where she is due to perform for soldiers
and their families. The film also explores the science behind
Nellie’s tricks. Is it possible that Nellie knows what she is
doing? Does she understand the tasks she performs? Could Nellie
really be the world’s smartest pig?
Among the scientists involved in the
documentary is Dr Candace Croney of Oregon State University’s
Animal Sciences Department. A specialist in bioethics and animal
behaviour research, Dr Croney worked with Professor Stanley
Curtis on the famous ‘joy stick experiment’, which proved that
pigs were capable of high levels of cognitive thought.
But porcine intelligence will come as no
surprise to anyone who has spent time around these social,
playful animals. “Pigs have the cognitive ability to be quite
sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly [more so
than] three-yearolds,” says Dr Donald Broom of Cambridge
University. Dr Broom has created a ‘pig mirror test’, in which
pigs are shown a mirror, before being encouraged to retrieve
objects reflected in the mirror. The results of these tests
suggest that pigs appreciate the difference between reality and
the reflected image, thus demonstrating a high level of
cognitive awareness – similar to that achieved by young children
when they first become aware of themselves.
To compare the intelligence of pigs and young
children in a far less scientific way, Extraordinary Animals
invites three kids to try some of the tasks Nellie can perform.
How will the children fare against the porcine prodigy?
Pigs Can Play Video Games
Pigs: Intelligent Animals Suffering in
Factory Farms and Slaughterhouses