Still, at their final destination, the pigs invariably die. They are killed, either on the operating table or when euthanized shortly afterward.
In 2010, National Taiwan University researchers reported that it successfully stimulated complete tooth regeneration in a Lanyu miniature pig, by combining its bone marrow with molar tooth buds. That live experiment resulted in a breakthrough, but many, even promising ones, don’t. Before a project runs its course, it is hard to tell whether the death of the pig is worthwhile.
At the station, workers who work directly with the pigs say they keep their distance.
“How labs use them is out of our hands,” said Huang Min-hsiung (黃敏雄), a Taitung native who oversees the pen’s day-to-day operations.
Fastidious about cleanliness, workers touch their charges only when necessary, and only when wearing latex gloves. Huang stressed that the animals are identified by number: There is no naming of the pigs, which due to selective breeding, come in the color of a Dalmatian and a fawn.
Though coat colors differ, the pigs are all from the same breed. Twenty-five kilograms at maturity, the Lanyu miniature pig has small ears, a wasp-like waist and cloven hooves that are surprisingly dainty.
On their native Orchid Island, the Tao Aboriginal people keep them as housepets, and eat them on special occasions. On balmy afternoons, pigs sleep at the foot of owners or root in human hands for carrots.
At the Taitung station, the Lanyu miniature pigs display a different temperament. Even as piglets, they are sensitive and skittish at a pin-drop.
They are also inbred, but new specimens for breeding are hard to find. Back on Orchid Island, the indigenous breed is disappearing, due to uncontrolled interbreeding with imported foreign pigs, which the locals now prefer for their flavor.
Chu is communicating with the islet’s non-governmental organizations about preservation projects that use his own station’s genetic material. “In 50 years, it is possible that the only purebred Lanyu pigs will be the ones here at this facility,” he said.