Warthog - Africa's Jester
The boar raised his head and sniffed the breeze. A lone vulture glided overhead. With a sharp snort and a puff of dust, he swivelled around and peered forward with his tiny eyes. Nothing stirred. The warthog lowered his head to nibble the grass at his feet, but then jolted upwards and again tested the air. Something was up. He began to trot slowly out of the long grass, towards the open valley, where a sounder of young female hogs were grazing.
Suddenly, a tawny shape with rippling muscles burst from cover. The big boar bolted. Two more lions materialised from nowhere and took up the chase. It was a race for his life and he moved with electrifying speed, tail up like an antenna. After about a hundred metres, two of the lions gave up the chase but the third came in at an angle and was gaining fast on the squealing pig. It seemed that his life was over and that the Masai Mara lions would have another helping of pork.
With a deft flick of her front paw, the agile cat clipped the warthog's ankle and 80 kilograms of pig rolled and spun in a cloud of dust. Before the dust settled, he was on his feet and running again, leaving the panting lioness looking on in disgust. Slowing from a gallop to a canter and then to a haughty trot, the boar glanced back at the humbled lions.
The warthog is frequently regarded as the most comical of African animals, due, no doubt to its bizarre, ugly face and its habit of running with an erect tail. Warthogs are entertaining animals to watch and their lifestyles are fascinating. The above incident took place in Kenya's Masai Mara, and will probably be happening somewhere in an African savannah right now, although not normally with such a happy ending for the warthog!
Warthogs are important members of the herbivore community in savannah and open woodland. They are also an important part of the diet of lions and leopards. They feed mostly on short green grass in the wet season, and on succulent rhizomes, tubers and bulbs - which they uproot with their snouts - in the dry season.
Warthogs often seek the company of antelope, foraging in a relaxed fashion while the taller and more nervous antelope are ever alert. Dependent upon surface water, for drinking and wallowing, warthogs are absent from the arid and semi-arid parts of the continent, although stragglers may turn up in the Kalahari Desert during high rainfall years. Unable to tolerate cold temperatures, warthogs do not live in temperate highland grasslands and mountains.
The hole story
Few animals are as strictly diurnal as the warthog and it is practically unheard of to see one out and about after dark. When the sun sets, all warthogs find an underground burrow and reverse into it. The burrows are usually the enlarged diggings of aardvarks and are often used by a succession of different hogs. One warthog may have ten or more burrows that it uses in its home range. A hog always reverses into its hole, so its tusks face forward, and it is safe from all predators, except the most determined lions.
For raising young, the female selects a large burrow, often in the side of a large termite mound. For her litter she digs out a second chamber which is raised up on a shelf in case of flooding. She will usually give birth to two or three piglets who will remain underground for the first six or seven weeks.
When they eventually emerge, they will not be alone, for warthogs time their reproduction with the seasons so that the piglets arrive at the beginning of the wet season when grazing is abundant but grass is not too long. It is common for two or more sows (quite often sisters) to stick together and nursery groups of six or more piglets may be seen. Despite being tenaciously defended by their mothers, many piglets do not see out their first year as leopard, hyena, cheetah and even Martial Eagles relish them as prey.
Where to see warthog at CCAfrica lodges
Warthog are common and readily seen in almost all the reserves in which CCAfrica operates. At some lodges, individual hogs enjoy the relative security of the surroundings and the lawns which may remain green during the dry winter. In such cases they can become quite "tame" but should nevertheless be approached with caution as their tusks are sharp and dangerous.
At Kichwa Tembo, just outside Kenya's Masai Mara, a number of warthogs have taken up residence in the camp and have formed a fascinating relationship with a troop of banded mongoose which remove ticks and other parasites from the short-haired pigs. At Phinda Private Game Reserve, in northern Zululand, South Africa, many of the warthogs are rust-red in colour, because they wallow in muddy soil rich in red oxide.
Estes. R.D. 1991. The Behaviour Guide to African Mammals Wake Forest Studium, USA, and Russel Friedman Books, South Africa.
Posted: Mammals by CC Africa, Date: 21 November 2006