Warthogs are tough little animals…they have to be in the African savannah. The sun is unrelenting, food can be scarce, and the much-bigger megafauna live a brutal existence.
When I saw my first wild warthog, on a trip some years back, I was struck by its most unusual looks.
That short and stout body with a really big head. The curved tusks protruding from a flat face. Face bumps and whatever else all hidden by whiskers and bristles.
The bumps or warts, for which the animal gets its name, are tough, thickened skin that protect the warthog.
Every warthog has four tusks, to defend against their many predators including leopards, lions, crocodiles, hyenas, and humans.
When you spend enough days out in the field, you see warthogs quite often. I found them curious and enjoyable to watch.
They have a compact, swift way of moving, often with the tufted tail extended straight up in the air.
Sometimes they were barely visible in the tall grass.
While grazing, they are frequently seen kneeling; have callused knee pads for this purpose.
Often they were in groups, called sounders. They have an elaborate social system with family groups of females and their young. Males typically separate from the families, but stay in the home range.
During the day we saw them in the grass foraging, socializing, and raising their young. At night they bed down in abandoned aardvark burrows.
The burrow is also where they nurse their piglets. The piglets are tiny, weighing a pound or two (450-900g).
Because the warthog has neither hide nor fur for protection or insulation, they stay warm by huddling together or staying in their burrows.
When it is hot, warthogs roll around in mud holes and coat their bodies with a protective layer of mud.
They have a large and varied diet, eating grasses in the wet season, and digging for tubers, rhizomes, and roots during the dry season. But they will eat anything from bark and fungi to insects, eggs, and carrion. Survivors.
Although warthogs can sprint up to 30 mph (48 km/h), they are slower with less endurance than most savannah animals. So the burrows are essential for survival.
Adults back into the burrow tail first, so they can come charging out, tusks first, if threatened.
One day we were on a walking safari. Our guide, always armed with a rifle, warned us never to stand in front of a burrow because an aggressive warthog could come charging out any time.
We were passing by a burrow, quickly, as instructed, but just then there was a tremendous screeching and uproar and I thought for sure we were about to be attacked by a warthog.
It was only a ground bird we had startled.
Often over-shadowed on the savannah by more elegant mammals, warthogs may not be showy specimen, but they are crafty survivors.
They can outsmart their predators, defend their young, stay fed in any season, and live among some of the most ferocious creatures on this planet. That’s an impressive animal.
Written by Jet Eliot.
Photos by Athena Alexander.