Basseterre, St. Kitts – It is not often that the death of an animal would become headline news, but in this case, the passing this week of the famous mascot and the biggest tourist attraction at one of the local beach bars on the island of St. Kitts, is certainly a big enough story to warrant a front page news article.
But this was not just any old pig…this was the star attraction and an “A-listed” celebrity, known to all as Wilbur the Island Pig.
Wilbur passed away on Tuesday 4th September, 2012, after struggling through the last couple months in declining health, though he managed to disguise his ailing condition with his friendly demeanor and willingness to mingle with the many visitors who frequented his home at the popular Reggae Beach Bar & Grill, located on the pristine Cockleshell Beach at the Southeast Peninsula.
Strange as it may seem, his death sent shockwaves through the community of regular clients of the Reggae Beach Bar, and in the first hour of the announcement of his demise, almost 100 messages of condolences poured in to the owners, Gary Pereira & family. This figure has since mushroomed.
In an exclusive interview with miyVue.com, Mr. Pereira said the charm and sociability of Wilbur was noticed at a very early stage in his life and his acceptance as one of the family was easily embraced by all.
Wilbur the Island Pig was born at Turtle Beach 12 years ago in 2000 and was originally owned by a farmer who hailed from the Dominican Republic. Pereira explained that “At Turtle Beach we had a guy from Santo Domingo and he and his wife got two pigs because they decided that the amount of food we were throwing away was a waste of money and they wanted to get some pigs to try to breed them and sell them and make some money. So he set up a little pig pen on the western side of the property, not too far from our restaurant, and from there he fed the scraps to them. These were Wilbur’s parents.”
The first set of pigs, including Wilbur, were therefore born at Turtle Beach and were known to be always running around on the beach…about 10 of them. And though many guests of what was then called the Turtle Beach Restaurant always commented that they loved to see them, the owner, Daniel, decided that after 6 months he would start to sell them to the market. But Pereira said that little Wilbur was the friendliest one and was somewhat unusual, so when the time came for him to be sold to the butcher, (he was actually the very last one to go to market), Pereira and his staff stepped in and said, “Hey, no, no, no, we are keeping this pig. Daniel, you sold the others but this one is for us.”
They told the owner that Wilbur was like a part of the beach and with their intervention, little Wilbur was spared. Since that time, he lived, played and grew up on the beach, eventually becoming a key feature at the restaurant. Pereira said Wilbur has never been kept in a pen at any stage of his life.
“But we sold Turtle Beach and we went to establish our new restaurant at Cockleshell and we had to devise a plan to entice him over there with a bucket of food on the back of a flatbed truck; because by that time he was about 8 years old and now an adult who was heavy and growing in weight,” explained Gary. He lived the rest of his life happily in the new facility next door at Reggae Beach Bar & Grill.
“When I told my granddaughter Tiffany that he had died, she was sad and in disbelief, and I had to carefully explain to her that Wilbur was in pain, old and suffering, and that he was not going to last much longer. I told her he is 12 years old, so in pig years he is probably like 100 years old, and he is going off to animal heaven where he would meet the family dog we had here, but also died,” shared Gary.
Wilbur was definitely a celebrity and a book was written on him, titled, “Wilbur the Island Pig”. This publication is said by Pereira to have sold thousands. Wilbur is said to have touched the lives of hundreds who came into his contact. He could be seen sea bathing with tourists and residents; drinking beer; posing for photos; giving pig rides to children; and taking a nap under one of his favourite trees on the beach. He was known by name to many and was talked about by visitors and became a huge hit amongst the resident population of students attending the various universities on the island.
He was between 600-700 pounds, 6 foot across and about 4 feet tall; but in the end was starting to lose weight and he started eating less and less. “We recognized that he was withering away and unfortunately he just got to that age where it was tough for him and sad for us to see him in that condition. We even brought over a doctor, a veterinarian, Dr. Ricaldo Pyke, and he placed him on drips to boost his energy and strength and nursing him back to good health.”
“It is really hats off to Dr. Pyke because we tried the other vets and nobody wanted to assist but he came out on his own accord and looked at the pig and did what he had to do and at one point got him back on his legs. But Dr. Pyke informed us that the pig was not doing well and was suffering and he thought about taking him out of his misery.”
Pereira said however, “We did not want to do that because we thought that Wilbur would bounce back, but by the next day, he started going downhill and the day after he was dead. It was sad.”
“He was also my biggest marketing attraction for the beach. People would come from hotels like Marriott, just to see him; because taxi drivers always told visitors that they had to see this 600 pound pig on the beach. And they would say take me there, but now those days (are) done and I would have to find a new attraction.”
Mr. Pereira disclosed however that a life sized memorial is to be built in honour of Wilbur. Pereira said it will be located by the restaurant on the beach. It will be fenced off with relevant information on his life and the place would have a little garden so that he can always be remembered.
Rest in peace Wilbur!