I love warthogs!
The warthog – also known as Pumba – is so feisty and mischievous but is also fiercely loyal and protective of its family. Did you know that the male warthog reverses into his den, so at the first sign of trouble he can come out fighting! With their distinctive two pairs of tusks and their prominent ‘warts’ (actually protective bumps), warthogs look pretty ferocious. And yet they are basically grazers, and often kneel down on their front legs so that they can pull the juicy roots out of the ground.
Beryl Markham’s description of the warthog in ‘West with the Night’, her 1942 memoir really brings the character of the warthog to life:
”I know animals more gallant than the African warthog, but none more courageous. He is the peasant of the plains – the drab and dowdy digger in the earth. He is the uncomely but intrepid defender of family, home, and bourgeois
convention, and he will fight anything of any size that intrudes upon his smug existence. Even his weapons are plebeian – curved tusks, sharp, deadly, but not beautiful, used inelegantly for rooting as well as for fighting … His eyes are small and lightless and capable of but one expression – suspicion. What he does not understand, he suspects, and what he suspects, he fights … He is not lacking in guile. He enters his snug little den tail foremost so that he is never caught off guard.”
We had such fun the first time we saw warthogs in the wild. Picture the scene – a bucolic Eden with zebra, topi, springbok and impala peacefully grazing in a clearing, beside a pool of cool clear water. Two Pumba rolled up, tails proudly bobbing high in the air with their tufts at the end, and stopped to take in the sight. They then looked at each other – and did their nod and wink and said ‘Let’s rumble’?!? That’s what it looked like, as in unison they trotted into the clearing and scattered all the animals to the four winds. Stopped, looked at each other again, and then trotted off into the bushes. Job done!
A more recent encounter with a family of warthogs (we often see them in a family group like the picture above – Mum, Dad, two kids) was not so much fun, not for the warthogs anyway. We were sitting under a tree in the Maasai Mara eating our lunch, when Meshack our guide suddenly shouted to us to forget our food and hop in the jeep – and off we roared in a cloud of dust, leaving poor Julius to guard our lunch. A hunt was in process: two lionesses had set up a pincer movement, closing in on the warthog family who sadly were blithely unaware of their fate to come.
Muscles clenched, every muscle and sinew alert, tension mounting … and then – at some subtle signal unseen by us – they were off. Some moments later, after a courageous fight, Mum and one of the children were lunch for the lions and their cubs.
It was hard to watch – and to listen to – but thrilling at the same time. This was life and death on the savannah, and those lion cubs needed to eat.