The Comical Warthog
ONE of the most amusing sights in the African bush is a family of warthogs going for a jog. They can be seen trotting along at a brisk pace in a dignified warthog manner, each with its slender, tufted tail held stiffly erect like a little radio antenna. Of course, the warthog’s aim is not to amuse observers. According to the book Maberly’s Mammals of Southern Africa, “this habit probably helps the animals to see each other in long grass when fleeing, especially in the case of the young ones with their very limited vision.”
Even more comical is the way in which they enter their “home,” especially if they do so at great speed. “Home” for warthogs can be an enlarged ant-bear or porcupine hole in the ground, and warthogs have a unique mode of entrance. The juveniles, who have not yet learned proper warthog manners, will hurtle headfirst into the den like any other self-respecting animal. Not so the parents! At full speed, with military precision, they do a quick about-face at the entrance to their den—and back hastily into the safe confines of their home! This little maneuver is not done merely to amuse bystanders. You see, the warthog now has the decided advantage of facing his predator and warding off any further attack with his deadly tusks.
Of course, this hurried retreat can sometimes have unexpected complications. The problem is that warthogs are not the only ones who may occupy these dusty dens under the ground. Hyenas, honey badgers, jackals, and porcupines may seek shelter in these burrows. “If the holes are already occupied, [warthogs] may be subject to occasional unpleasant encounters,” reports Custos magazine. “In a few instances warthogs have been seen with [porcupine] quills protruding from their posteriors.” Admittedly, this cannot be very amusing to the hapless warthog.
With his ominous tusks, the warthog looks like a vicious predator on the lookout for game. But not so. The warthog has been described as a “generally inoffensive animal.” It turns out that the warthog is a grass eater, and a mighty picky eater at that! He feeds almost exclusively on short grasses, dining only on the tender tips of grass shoots; he avoids weeds, long grasses, or other plants. “Hog” indeed! Furthermore, the warthog is willing to probe even the most uninviting of places to find his dinner. And when he pushes his face through thorny scrub areas in search of tasty new grasses that may be growing underneath, his tusks serve to protect his face.
During the hottest hours of the day, warthogs can often be found at “home” in an abandoned aardvark burrow that has been enlarged with their tusks. If they are not resting, you might see them wallowing and drinking at a nearby water source. When it is time to eat, they can be seen trotting over the grassy plains. (They refuse to break into a gallop unless forced to do so.) They move with dignity, all of them—from adult to very young—carrying their wiry tails stiffly upright.
Warthogs are not the most handsome members of the pig family. Yet, they do have a most appropriate name, which is derived from the conspicuous “warts” on their oblong faces. These are not actually true warts but outgrowths of thickened skin, and they can be very functional. They may help to protect the warthog’s eyes when it is digging and feeding. They can also be useful when males have a dispute, acting as shields against the opponent’s slashing tusks.
Concealed behind this comic face is a fierce fighter. Mother warthogs are very attentive to and protective of their young. Other adult members of the herd will likewise protect young ones, even if that means endangering themselves. For example, if a cheetah attempts to take a baby warthog, an adult will charge the attacker. Usually the mere sight of this charging bundle of fury and sharp tusks will put the cheetah to flight. In the meantime, the babies will scamper about, trying to remain safely under the belly of their mother. Of course, if the threat is more serious, such as a lion or a leopard, then the warthogs wisely retreat, their tails still raised high. The adults, however, will bring up the rear, allowing the young to reach safety first.
Nevertheless, Dr. Darryl Mason notes in Custos magazine, “Adult warthogs can be formidable opponents to cheetahs, leopards and hyaenas.” A warthog sow was observed defending one of her youngsters against a large male leopard. She bravely charged the leopard, chasing him a hundred feet [30 m] before he hastily retreated into a tree. On another occasion two warthogs were seen holding off a pack of 16 wild dogs.
How fascinating it is to observe the antics of this formidable comic of the African bush!