In Defense of the Warthog

Solitary warthog in the Maasai Mara

Solitary warthog in the Maasai Mara

If pressed, most devotees of African wildlife would likely concede that they do indeed have a favorite animal. I’ve already written exhaustively about mine in a blog post dated 31 July 2009 (scroll to the “Older Entries” at the bottom a couple of times to locate it). I’ve also uploaded some thoughts on the animal that certainly qualifies as my least favorite (post dated 7 August 2009). Somewhere between those two reference species lies the remainder of the menagerie, far too many of which receive less notice and glory than they rightfully merit. I’d like to offer a few observations on one of them – the inimitable warthog – and explain why I’m inclined to believe it to be the most underrated animal in Africa, if not the world.

My favorite animals ...

My favorite animals ...

My not so favorite animal

My not so favorite animal

The warthog is a hopelessly unattractive creature. It is dark gray in color, but much like the elephant, it tends to assume the hues of the mud and dust indigenous to its immediate surroundings. Named for the unappealing “warts” that protrude from the upper portion of its cheeks, it sports scimitar-shaped tusks and a much longer face than most other members of the porcine community. Part of its head and most of its back are topped with a fairly thick mane … the rest of it is lightly covered with isolated strands of bristly hair. Its squat body and short legs are both a blessing and a curse. Its low stature enables it to hide effectively in the long grass but its stumpy legs make it vulnerable to speedier predators.

The warthog may rate low marks for beauty, but it more than compensates with its fierce nature and outsized heart. Warthog mothers can be formidable. Lions and leopards routinely hunt their little ones, but a warthog mother rarely allows the predation to go unchallenged. They are dedicated and ferocious, particularly in defense of their young. They are capable of inflicting serious injury with their tusks, and have been known to launch a courageous but suicidal frontal assault on much larger predators. On more than one occasion I’ve seen a warthog mom sacrifice herself in defense of her young.

One bad little Mama

One bad little Mama

Warthogs are also much more mentally adept than one might suspect. They sometimes dig their own burrows, but do not hesitate to occupy whatever holes in the ground are abandoned and available. They are acutely aware of their escape routes and have been known to elude what seemed to be certain death. They have frustrated many a lioness by disappearing quite suddenly into an old aardvark den.

Just a day or so ago a friend related that her father once told her that warthogs are so ugly they’re beautiful. I tend to agree with that assessment. But I think they’re more than beautiful … they are resourceful, plucky and, when need be, fierce. And, of course, underrated.

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