The animal-rights group Farm Sanctuary on Tuesday reported it rescued six pigs from a small island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where the animals were left to forage four years ago.
While the group, based in New York, called it a rescue, some boaters who have been feeding the pigs for years called their removal a theft.
“Those pigs were stolen, private property, private owner,” said Erlyn Lucas-Payne, a Delta boater who said she helped feed them a handful of times a year.
Several of pigs were taken to the island near Stockton four years ago to help clear vegetation from the island, according to published reports. How well the pigs were faring on the small island four years later is subject to debate. A number of boaters had taken to feeding them, often reporting their efforts on a “Friends of Pigs on the Delta!” Facebook page.
“Question is – what are they being rescued from? They were free, healthy and happy,” wrote Blair Hake, the page’s moderator.
Farm Sanctuary officials said a 10-person team, using a trailer and barge to ferry the pigs off the island, acted with the permission of the island’s owner, Martin Wong. They said the pigs were not the original pigs abandoned on the island. They were not in good health and were being mistreated, said Susie Coston, the group’s national shelter director.
“During the winters they are starving. During the summer people are riding them, feeding them beer and treating them really horribly,” Coston says on one of several videos the group made about the operation.
When it became clear the pigs could not live solely by eating the island’s vegetation, the owner of the pigs “just left the stranded animals to fend for themselves,” Coston said.
Sabine Verelst had been feeding the pig weekly through good and bad weather, the release states.
The “Friends of Pigs on the Delta!” page shows numerous boats stopping to feed the pigs everything from carrots to animal feed.
“We were out there regularly checking on them,” Hake told The Bee. While admitting he’s not a veterinarian, he said the pigs appeared to be in generally fine health, with no visible wounds or defects.
“If they needed healthcare, they should have brought a vet out and left them there,” Hake said. “They looked okay to me.”
In previous media reports, Roger Stevenson claimed ownership of the pigs. He was not immediately available for comment Tuesday. The San Joaquin Sheriff’s Office did not have an immediate comment on whether the pigs were lawfully taken or if there were complaints about the animals’ welfare.
After a two-day rescue that involved creating a chute to get the pigs onto a barge and into a trailer, Farm Sanctuary’s team left the island Tuesday morning.
“This rescue is like nothing I have ever experienced before. We’ve been dealing with dense woods, water surrounding us, and pigs who have lived their entire lives without care of any kind,” Coston said in a release.
“I have not been able to examine the pigs yet, but just by looking at them, I can tell you they are very sick. They are way too thin, which could be because of hunger, poor nutrition, parasites, disease, or any combination, and I suspect one might be pregnant. But we will not fail these pigs.”
They transported the pigs to UC Davis for veterinary care before they are taken to a long-term home. Hake said he’s eager to see the veterinarian’s report. If they were in poor health, he said, they should get the care they need.
“These pigs are going to have a beautiful, beautiful life,” Coston said.