By far the more secretive of the two wild pigs native to South Africa, the Bushpig is a shy denizen of forests, riverine thickets, reedbeds and other similarly densely vegetated habitats, in contrast with the warthog that prefers more open environments. They’re dependent on a reliable source of water. Also in contrast with the warthog, the Bushpig is nocturnal, rarely venturing out into the open to feed before darkness has fallen. They have a largely vegetative diet – roots, tubers, fungus, bark, seeds, pods, fruit, grass, water plants, etc. – but will also eat carrion, eggs, and even small vertebrates ranging from frogs to the young of antelope. Their omnivorous tendencies also extend to farm produce, and apart from chewing off the stems of banana and papaya trees to get to the fruit and laying waste to maize crops they’ve also been recorded as feasting on chickens, sheep, goats and even domestic pigs!
Bushpigs are social animals, moving around in family groups called sounders usually numbering around ten animals and consisting of a single, dominant, adult boar, a dominant sow, other sows, and their youngsters. They are great swimmers, fast runners and highly intelligent, making them difficult to trap. Despite their retiring nature, bushpigs are aggressive and deadly when cornered or protecting their young. In the wild only leopards and lions dare to tangle with them, and many a hunting dog, and hunter, have been lost to their slashing tusks.
Baby Bushpigs are usually born in the spring and summer months after a four month gestation. Litters number up to eight, but four is more usual. The piglets are weaned at about 4 months of age. Fully grown, adult stand between 60cm and 1m tall at the shoulder, with the sows, at an average of 60kg being considerably less bulky than the boars which may weigh up to 130kg! In the wild Bushpigs have a life expectancy of between 12 and 20 years.
The Bushpig has a wide distribution over southern, central and eastern Africa as well as Madagascar, where it was probably introduced by humans. In South Africa, where their population is estimated at over 10,000 animals, the Bushpig is found in the provinces in the north and east of the country – Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal – with a separate population found in the Garden Route and the valley bushveld of the Eastern Cape. The IUCN considers the species to be of least concern, despite threats to their habitat and being hunted for destroying agricultural crops – a testament to their rapid rate of reproduction and adaptive nature.
During our visit to Cape Vidal in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in January of this year, there was neither hide nor hair to be seen of Bushpig in the camp during the day. Under cover of darkness however they’d emerge from their hiding places in numbers, being regularly caught by the little camera trap we set up outside our cabin as they foraged in the open terrain.
We also encountered this sounder of Bushpigs just after sunrise one morning during our visit to Cape Vidal. Their reaction was typical of the species – while they were feeding overnight out in the open, at the first sight of humans they made a bee-line straight for the swamp forest.