Of wombats and other strange creatures that could confuse Malaysians


  • Animals
  • Wednesday, 08 Jul 2015

You can't always trust your eyes. Because it's not your eyes that actually make sense of the things you see. Visual information is relayed from your eyes to your brain where the images are identified and deciphered. So it's more accurate to say that it's your brain that does the "seeing" – your eyes are merely conduits.

In a way, this explains why certain things don't always appear as what they are: optical illusions, visual anomalies, Loch Ness monster and all that jazz.

It's also why, when confronted by the image of a cartoon wombat wearing a songkok on video billboards in Kuala Lumpur, some Malaysians were convinced they were staring at the visage of a pig. While there are many types of swine, hogs and boars, the wombat – in this case, ServCorp's mascot, Sidney, apparently "the world's most intelligent wombat" – is none of them.

Wombat

Hailing from Australia, the wombat is a member of the Marsupial order of mammals and is more closely related to the koala and kangaroo than the swine family. But in some ways, the wombat's lifestyle and appearance resemble that of a pig. Ambling slowly over grassy, bushy terrain under the cover of night, it uses its short round nose to sniff for plant roots and shoots and other vegetarian fare.

It also has the rounded shape of a pig but this has more to do with an evolutionary adaptation to living in burrows and foraging at night: a rounder body means less surface area through which body heat can be lost. Growing bulkier also means having fewer predators.

Wombat2A

Still, the wombat is a strange-looking animal – and sometimes very adorable, as you can see in the photo above.  Is it an obese raccoon that's lost its stripes and tail? Is an overstuffed teddy bear with beady eyes come to life? The first Europeans in Australia who saw it were no less baffled – they thought it was a backwoods cousin of the badger.

Whatever it is, it certainly doesn't resemble any animal we have here in Malaysia.

It's an honest mistake, albeit a telling one, that says more about the viewer of the subject than the subject itself. Just because it's round and has a snout nose, it doesn't mean it's a pig. You shouldn't even say it about people, no matter how piggish they may appear.

So, before we make any more "honest" mistakes, let's train our eyes and brains by studying some other strange-looking animals from around the world and ask ourselves:

Is that a pig or is that not a pig?

AardvarkA

No, it's not a rabbit-pig mutant. It's an aardvark, an ant-eater that's native to Africa, and this one's a wee baby so it's still on the hairless side.

CapybaraA

If you thought furry warthog, you're mistaken. It's the capybara from South America – the biggest rodent in the world.

CentralAmericanTapirA

Did this higgledy piggledy get a nosejob? No. This is Baird's tapir from South America, a cousin of our very own Malayan tapir. Tapirs are distantly related to horses and rhinoceroses.

StarNosedMoleA

This odd duck who regularly makes an appearance on strange animal lists is no swine. It's the star-nosed mole from North America, and that supernova noggin is one of the most sensitive in the world.

SeaPigA

This ominously pink soul-sucking space alien creature of our nightmares is commonly known as the "sea pig", but it contains no porcine DNA. It's a deep sea creature named scotoplanes and it's a member of the sea cucumber family.

Incidentally, sea cucumbers are nothing like real cucumbers.

Tardigrade

Well... this one's a doozy... it's clearly not a pig... but if it's not a pig, then what the heck is it?

Google... Google... Google...

Well, goodness gracious if it's not the tardigrade: a microscopic creature able to withstand extreme living conditions and found almost everywhere. Because of where it's most commonly found (in moss beds and watery places) and how it looks, it's affectionately referred to by scientists who study it as "moss piglet" and "water bear".

FatDogA

This unfortunate animal is... alas... no pig. It's just a really fat dog.

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