A family of warthogs (Phacochoerus africanus) glances back at us briefly during their retreat. Warthogs family groups (also called sounders) are usually composed of one adult female, a few of her mature female offspring, and a litter of piglets. We saw this group on three occasions. Each time during our approach the warthogs ceased their playful bathing and jogged just behind the brow of the hill — some youngsters courageous enough to take a step forward behind mom. Unlike white-lipped peccaries I’ve run into in the New World, warthogs at Mpala are very shy in human presence. Maybe their timid comportment is due to the high abundance of predators including lions, hyenas, and leopards. In comparison to many of the herbivores out here, being relatively small and not as quick, warthogs are high on the list for a manageable meal. One time I spotted a lone warthog sleeping in tall grasses under an acacia tree, and when we finally made eye contact it made a brisk escape accompanied by a grunt. Their linear strutting with tails raised high is comical every time I see it.
Warthogs have two pairs of tusks, both recurved, dully pointed at the tips, and reaching over 20 centimeters long. Because of warthogs’ smaller stature, it’s easy to lose perspective on the size and strength of these animals. Ivy managed to spot a broken tusk from a deceased male, and it was fascinating to feel the weight and smooth contours on the canine tooth. As in elephants, a warthog’s tusks grow indeterminately, meaning that they continue to grow throughout their lifetime. These bizarre outgrowths are both useful in defense from predators and competition between males. We were lucky to witness a brief scuffle between two males at the hippo pools, headbutting much in the way I would imagine rams would do so. Shortly after the warthogs regressed to foraging on grasses. Their stance while eating is also funny to watch; they will bend down only their front legs to assume a kneeling posture, scanning and chomping away.
Photographed after pursuit