The comically-looking Warthog is a firm favourite for many visitors to South Africa’s wild places, who probably find it easy to relate to the lovable Pumbaa from Disney’s The Lion King movies. These large pigs – males weigh as much as 115kg – are tough in the extreme and can put those impressive tusks to good use defending themselves and their piglets.
Warthogs inhabit open savannas, short grasslands, floodplains and semi-desert scrub, avoiding more densely vegetated areas (particularly forests and areas with long grass cover). They primarily feed on grass, roots, fruits, seeds and bark, but have been known to scavenge from carcasses and have even been recorded robbing cheetahs of their prey! They can go for long periods without water but will drink daily where it is available. They prefer feeding on very short growth and digging for morsels with their snouts, often going down on their knees for better access.
Groups of Warthogs, called sounders, usually consist of related sows and young, sometimes accompanied by an adult boar and number up to 16 individuals, though the males are mainly solitary especially outside the breeding season. Warthogs are sedentary and will often remain in the same general area for most of their lives. They are diurnal in habit, taking shelter in the disused holes of other animals or in man-made culverts at night. They always enter these burrows backside first, so as to protect themselves with those formidable tusks. Warthogs love a mudbath and through their rolling in the stuff help to enlarge waterholes over many years. These pigs have excellent sense of smell and hearing but terrible eyesight, often relying on oxpeckers to give them advance warning of danger. They can run at speeds in excess of 40km/h, always with their thin tails held aloft like the aerial on a radio-controlled car!
Sows give birth to between 1 and 8 (usually around 4) tiny piglets in their burrows during the spring and summer. Lactating sows will accept any piglets as their own. Warthogs feature on the menu of all Africa’s large predators, although adults will defend themselves and their young viciously with their tusks. Piglets are prone to dying of exposure to cold, wet conditions. Warthogs have a life expectancy of up to 20 years in the wild.
Listed as “Least Concern” by the IUCN, it is estimated that there are at least 22,000 Warthogs in South Africa (and probably considerably more) where they seem to be expanding their range. There are free ranging populations of warthog in all South African provinces with the exception of the Western Cape. Good places to find Warthogs are the Addo Elephant, Kruger, Mapungubwe, Marakele, Mokala and Pilanesberg National Parks, Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, and Dinokeng and Ithala Game Reserves. Elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa Warthog populations are declining due to habitat loss, competition with livestock and severe hunting pressure, and are evermore being restricted to conservation areas.