Pugnacious, pig-ugly and home at last

IT WAS such a tough and ugly little swine that locals let it pass into extinction. But the pugnacious Shetland pig - scourge of lambs, landowners and local produce - is set to make a return to the islands for the first time in more than 100 years.

Beginning this spring, a reconstructed model of the Shetland pig, or grice, will allow visitors at the Shetland Museum to see what the beast would have looked like when it existed for centuries on the islands.

It's not a pretty sight.

Short, squat, with a mohawk of bristled hair running down its spine, the grice was a primitive domesticated pig that became extinct after locals on the island were introduced to plumper and more docile species.

But for centuries before that, grice had the run of the islands in the summer and were free to take up their favourite activities - goring their 4in tusks into lambs and sheep, digging up pasture lands in search of worms and terrifying livestock. The creatures would then spend ill-tempered winters in the home of local crofters.

"They were too tough and too unruly for their own good," said Dr Ian Tait, curator at the Shetland Museum, who oversaw the taxidermy reconstruction.

"For the locals it was just something they were used to. The big change came in the early 19th century, when new domesticated breeds were brought to the islands. It wasn't long before grice were bred out of existence."

No photographic evidence of the grice exists. In order to reconstruct the animal, historians had to rely on written descriptions by visitors to the islands dating back to the 18th century.

"There were a fair degree of informed accounts from travellers writing about the animal - usually in a disparaging way," Dr Tait said.

While the islands are known for many unique and beautiful species - the Shetland pony, for example - the grice has been reconstructed because it represents an important legacy, according to Dr Tait.

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