A traditional Zulu story explains why the warthog goes about on his knees… “Oh, Gogo,” little Sipho asked one evening, “could you tell us the story of clever Jackal again?” Sipho, whose nickname was Mpungushe “jackal,” never tired of hearing tales of his beloved namesake. “Hawu, Sipho,” moaned several of his siblings, “Not again, little Jackal! You will wear out our ears with stories of Mpungushe!” Gogo laughed her deep, round laugh. Soon each of her grandchildren were laughing along with her. “I, too, love the stories of the Jackal!” Gogo looked at Sipho. “But we do not want to cause your brothers and sisters to become deaf. I think there is another tale that I can tell you of an animal who tried to be as clever as Jackal!”
Warthog had made himself a lovely, spacious home in an old termite mound that an aardvark had cleared out. He had built it up and made a wide entrance. He thought it was the most magnificent home in Africa and would often stand at the entrance of his dwelling with his snout in the air as the giraffe, wildebeest and zebra passed to the watering hole. “Hah,” he thought to himself, “no one has such a fine home!” One day as he looked out from the entrance of his cave he was horrified to see a huge lion stealthily stalking toward him. He started to back away, but because he had made the entrance to his place so grand, the lion would have no difficulty in following Warthog right in. “Ahhhh,” panicked Warthog, “Bhubesi will eat me in my own lounge! What will I do?” Warthog decided to use an old trick he’d heard Jackal bragging about. Warthog pretended to be supporting the roof of his hole with his strong back, pushing up with his tusks. “Help!” he cried to the lion, “I am going to be crushed! The roof is caving in! Flee, oh, mighty Bhubesi, before you are crushed along with me!” Now Lion is no fool. He recognized Jackal’s old ploy straight away, and he wasn’t going to be caught out again. He roared so fiercely that Warthog dropped to his knees, trembling. Warthog begged for mercy. Luckily for him Lion was not too hungry. So he pardoned the warthog and left, saying, “Stay on your knees, you foolish beast!” Lion laughed to himself and shook his shaggy head as he walked away. Imagine, slow-witted Warthog trying to copy Jackal’s trick! Warthog took Lion’s order to heart. That is why, to this day, you will see Warthog feeding on his knees, in a very undignified position, with his bottom up in the air and his snout snuffling in the dust.
The warthog is known as the naked swine of the savanna. They get their name from the large warts found on their head. The warthog is a member of the Suidae family. The Phacochoerinae, or warthog, is one of the three subfamilies of the Suidae. The two extant species of warthog include the Phacochoerus africanus, the common warthog, and the Phacochoerus aethiopicus, the desert warthog. The Warthog lives in grassland, savanna, and woodland in Sub-Saharan Africa. Warthogs are widely distributed, and presently not threatened in South Africa. However, the species is very susceptible to drought and hunting, which may result in localized extinctions in South Africa. They still occur naturally on farms throughout the range, and is being re-introduced into the areas where they have become locally extinct. They are also found in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique, Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania.
As a member of the pig family, it has a naked skin with sparse, long bristles. A characteristic feature of Warthogs is the protruding curved tusks, which in boars grow into formidable weapons. Boars stand 680mm high and weigh 80 Kg. Sows are smaller at a height of 600mm and an average mass of 57 Kg. Wartlike tubercles on the large and flat head is another distinctive feature of this animal. A tuft of hair at the end of the thin tail, is very visible when the tail is held erect during running. A warthog is identifiable by the two pairs of tusks protruding from the mouth and curving upwards. The lower pair, which is far shorter than the upper pair, becomes razor sharp by rubbing against the upper pair every time the mouth is opened and closed. The tusks are used for digging, for combat with other hogs, and in defense against predators—the lower set can inflict severe wounds. These sturdy hogs are not among the world’s most aesthetically pleasing animals. They are mostly bald, but they do have some sparse hair and a thicker mane on their backs.
The warthog is the only pig species that has adapted to grazing and savanna habitats. Its diet is omnivorous, composed of grasses, roots, berries and other fruits, bark, fungi, eggs and carrion. The diet is seasonably variable, depending on availability of different food items. During the wet seasons warthogs graze on short perennial grasses. During the dry seasons they subsist on bulbs, rhizomes and nutritious roots. Warthogs are powerful diggers, using both snout and feet. Whilst feeding, they often bend the front feet backwards and move around on the wrists. Although they can dig their own burrows, they commonly occupy abandoned burrows of aardvarks or other animals. The warthog commonly reverses into burrows, with the head always facing the opening and ready to burst out if necessary.
Although warthogs look fierce, they are actually herbivores who prefer to flee rather than fight. The primary defence is to flee by means of fast sprinting. The main warthog predators are humans, lions, leopards, crocodiles, and hyenas. Cheetahs are also capable of catching small warthogs. However, if a female warthog has any piglets to defend she will defend them very aggressively. Warthogs can inflict severe wounds on lions, sometimes ending with the lions bleeding to death. Warthogs have a home range since their food is not economically defensible. Males tend to live alone or in small bachelor groups with changing membership. Mature males only join female groups when sows are in heat. Males are not territorial, but will fight among themselves for mating opportunities, sometimes causing serious wounds with their upper or lower tusks. Females live in sounders that share the same resources. A sounder is made up of one to three females and their offspring. Collectively, a group sharing a home range is known as a clan.
Warthogs utilize overlap promiscuity as their mating system of choice for it best fits their social structure and habitat. Male warthogs adopt the “roaming tactic” in order to achieve matings since the females are generally spread out in sounders. This mating system is typical of animals with large home ranges in which the males have ranges overlapping several females and the daily behavior of the female is unpredictable. This type of mating system is advantageous to the male for he doesn’t defend a resource or the female, he merely roams, following his ultimate strategy. The females are slightly disadvantaged for they don’t get any resources from the male. Warthogs have a following strategy in which the young are kept nearby at all times. Associated mother warthogs suckle one another’s young, a reliable sign of kinship.
Warthogs are adaptable and are able to go long periods without water, as much as several months in the dry season. When water is available, warthogs will seek it and often submerge to cool down. They will also wallow in mud for the same purpose, and to gain relief from insects. Birds also aid these hogs in their battle with insects; oxpeckers and other species sometimes ride along on their warthog hosts, feeding on the tiny creatures invading their hides. Warthogs can tolerate higher than normal body temperatures, which is believed to be due to their ability to conserve moisture inside their body. They have also been known to cope with low temperatures. Behavioural strategies, such as wallowing and huddling together, are used to help them tolerate high and low temperatures respectively. Their lack of hair and sub-dermal fat leaves them very poorly insulated, in turn, huddling together and other such warming behavioural strategies are essential.