|Warthogs (Phacochoerus africanus). |
Photo by Arno & Louise Meintjes.
I'm sorry I haven't posted recently; I've been going through a bit of a stressful patch.
However, outside in my front garden, there's a family that's clearly not stressed.
You could be forgiven for thinking they're feeling pious, because the two adults are down on their knees.
Yes, you guessed it, they're warthogs.
Now I realise that you know all about warthogs. They trot past as non-speaking extras in every African wildlife documentary ever made.
Warthogs are passé.
But believe me, warthogs are weird. Pigs that live down burrows? Rabbits, wombats, prairie dogs – these are the critters that pop up out of holes. But pigs? And when tooth-and-claw threatens, warthogs don't just hurtle headlong down their holes like any self-respecting burrow-dweller. No, they skid to a halt at the tunnel mouth, whirl around (as much as anything pig-shaped can whirl) and reverse down backwards – now that's just perverse.
|Who wouldn't stay underground, if they looked like this? Warthog piglets don't leave their hole until 6-7 weeks old.|
Photo by Martin Heigan.
Mother warthogs defend their piglets. That doesn't sound scary, does it. But then it fails to evoke the piglets' blood-curdling squeals, the dreadful roaring bellows and grunts of a charging sow or the hysterical yelping of an injured dog.
Maybe I need to go back a step. The summer before last I was letting my two huskies gallivant in the bush at the local mine when they flushed a young warthog. The little fellow took one look at the dogs and began hollering for Mum. His piercing 'I'm-being-torn-apart' screams were so shocking that Wizard and I stood transfixed, but Magic took off after the critter. Suddenly a large grey shape erupted from the bushes. Roaring and growling, Mother Warthog hurtled straight toward Wizard. I couldn't see what was happening because of the undergrowth but my heart contracted as a volley of dreadful yelping arose. Warthogs have a penchant for disembowelling dogs; their upper tusks can reach 60 cm (23") in length and the lower ones are razor-edged (honed by the upper tusks whenever the warthog chews).
|Looking mean. The piglet's white cheek fur is thought to give an illusion of tusks (technically they're called tushes, not tusks, because they're canine teeth not incisors).|
Photo posted on Flickr by Piglicker.
Straining to catch sight of Wizard, who - still yelping pitifully – was fleeing through the undergrowth, I suddenly realised that Mum was now charging straight at me. This didn't alarm me at first because warthogs often appear to be attacking you when they're actually just fleeing to a burrow behind you. I'd been fooled before. I was much more worried about Wizard. But as the massive creature hurtled down the hill toward me (mother warthogs weigh in at around 65 kg/143 lbs), I began to think, 'Surely she's not going to attack me too?' I'd never heard of warthogs disembowelling people. As she got closer and closer, I wondered, in a panicky sort of way, whether it was possible to play toreador with a pig. By that stage, of course, I really had no other option. Fortunately, when she was just one metre (3 ft) away from me, and I was getting ready to leap, she swerved sideways, dashing past in a flurry of dust.
Meanwhile, the piglet had given Magic the slip by squeezing under a fence, and both dogs were standing together on the track. Wizard, whimpering constantly, was trembling from head to foot, and his white fur was splashed liberally with scarlet. Heart in mouth, I rushed up to assess the damage. One of the warthog's tusks had speared his thigh, leaving behind a deep stab wound. But much worse, the other one had pierced into his groin and there was blood everywhere. Only after I'd flushed out the wound did I realise how lucky we'd been. The tusk had penetrated more than 20 cm (8"), but it had gouged up between the skin of his thigh and abdomen, slicing - but not actually penetrating - the abdomen wall. Although the wound was not life-threatening, it still took many painful weeks to heal.
Of course even as I write this, Wizard and Magic are racing up and down the fence, desperately eager to get out and chase those tempting little piglets. Oh, aren't dogs a blessing!