African swine fever has breached the island of Borneo, where it is wiping out populations of the wild bearded pig Sus barbatus. First confirmed in early February, the outbreak has driven a precipitous decline in this species in less than two months. Field sites in the east of the Sabah region are reporting a complete absence of live pigs in forests. Local extinctions across swathes of Borneo are a realistic prospect.
Bearded pigs are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They are seen as ‘ecosystem engineers’ in the Bornean rainforest, where they are one of the most abundant species of mammal. Bearded pigs can be legally hunted under permit, and are an important source of animal protein for many communities.
The African swine fever virus is already island-hopping across southeast Asia, threatening 11 species of endemic pig, including the Sulawesi warty pig (Sus celebensis). Opportunities to control the disease in wild-pig populations are limited. Vaccines for domestic pigs are still in development, so the best hope for stemming loss of the wild animals could be to protect isolated populations in geographically defensible locations.
Nature 593, 37 (2021)