Peasant of the plains

I know animals more gallant than the African warthog, but none more courageous. He is the peasant of the plains— the drab and dowdy digger in the earth. He is the uncomely but intrepid defender of family.
Beryl Markham (in West with the Night)

When I told The Family that I liked the common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) more than the antelopes and zebras we had seen in Amboseli national park, she was quite surprised. Unlike others who have written about their love for the animal, I was unaware of its courage; I just thought that it was a bit of an underdog, overshadowed by the other, more showy, herbivores of the East African plains. The tuskless creature that you see in the featured photo must be less than a year old. This guess is buttressed by the observation that the “warts”, the bumps below its eyes and halfway down its snout, are also not fully grown out. It darted across the road in front of us behind a larger warthog (photo below) sporting a full set of four tushes and well-adjusted warts.

Let no one reproach the courage of the pig. These great fierce boars, driven from their last shelter, charged out in gallant style— tusks gleaming, tails perpendicular— and met a fate prepared for a king.
Winston Churchill (in My African Journey)

The females live in large kin groups, whereas males are either solitary or form loose bands. Given the male rivalry over mating, I’m surprised that the males and females are nearly the same size. Surely it would have been advantageous for males to be bigger than rivals, so setting off an evolutionary arms race. Perhaps the race is in terms of temperament, because boars are sometimes known to even fight leopards, although their first instinct is to go to ground in a burrow. Beryl Markham has a wonderful description of boars in their natural habitat; apparently they go into a burrow tail first, and, if disturbed, charge out tusk first, ready to fight. I was mystified by the relation between the two I saw. If indeed one of them was younger, the other was probably its mother, since males have no role in the upbringing of the litter. But the typical size of a litter is 2 to 4, and there were no other boars appeared in as long as I could see these two. With many predators around, I suppose it is inevitable that some of the piglets get picked off. But could it be common for only one of the litter to survive its first year? Or did we just happen on a terribly unlucky family?

By I. J. Khanewala

I travel on work. When that gets too tiring then I relax by travelling for holidays. The holidays are pretty hectic, so I need to unwind by getting back home. But that means work.

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