Chucky the Cheeky Hog
A Warthog Story
By Iris Hunt
If you are foolish enough to put your ear to a warthog burrow you will probably hear a lot of squeaks and squeals… those are the noises of the new arrivals in the warthog world.
One of them left the underground dungeons to rise to become ‘ambassador’ for the conservancy…
All during March the clouds have been building up over the mountain, heavy with the promise of the beginning of the long rains. The ground is dry and hard at the end of this season. For many wild animals this is the worst time of the year. The sun beating down mercilessly, the food supply getting sparser, familiar waterholes drying up.
With the shortage of grass, warthogs too have to resort to alternative food sources. They spend their time digging, using their snout like a bulldozer to expose roots and tasty tubers they can smell hiding under the scorched earth. Expectant sows will dig furiously for the extra nourishment they need to prepare them for the secret moment when they give birth to as many as 8 piglets, underground in the safety of their den.
Any wise warthog mother will know to keep her new brood safely underground in her burrow as long as she can satisfy the growing demand of nourishment from her own body. But as a mothers’ lot would have it, this turns into a catch 22. She must spend increasing time away from the den, outside, feeding herself to be able to produce the milk needed below. This in turn leaves her less time with the babies, until, eventually the starving lot follows her to the “door” of the burrow. Little square snouts squealing at their first sight of daylight, a worried sow chasing them back in, inevitably and too soon they dare the outdoors.
By this time, “Mom” is probably grateful for the turn of events. Her own body must feel oddly battered from the spikes that will grow into tusks, already protruding from the tiny snouts. Other teeth too are rapidly growing in. It takes the little tykes no time to figure out the use of teeth. They simply copy their adult family getting down on their knees, and bingo, a new crop of baby lawn mowers goes into action on the new carpet of grass the rains have by now produced.
That is, of course, if no disasters struck during the 6 weeks or so since their birth. Hyenas in particular are not shy or timid when it comes to listening at the pigs’ den. The promise of a juicy meal of baby pork sends them into a digging frenzy, throwing all caution to the wind. If the sow or the boar is home at the time, the hyena will have a rude surprise waiting. Suddenly and without warning the powerful hog comes charging out from the dark beyond. Tusks flashing she will send the Hyena off screeching, lumbering into the safety of the woods—-no laughing matter here.
If the family has been spared, the message came across clear. In the day to follow, as soon as any self respecting Hyena is presumed fast asleep in her own hole, the hog family is on the move, relocating to a new (old) burrow for safety. In their rush to get the babies through the move, the danger from above seems the lesser evil, if considered at all after the nights’ harrowing experience.
By now, with the sun rising high in the sky, the Eagle is awake, hungry and circling, waiting for an opportunity just like this. His eyes are equipped with the world’s best self-focusing binoculars. His body held aloft by huge buoyant wings, a masterpiece of aeronautical engineering. His brain, programmed like a flight computer based on millions of years of flying skills, safely guides him through the most difficult situations aloft. How often have I watched this nature’s airshow, and admired the split second precision flight with pilot’s envy.
Once spotted, the piglets don’t have a hope. With lightening speed the Eagle descends in a dive earthwards, aiming at the runt of the litter. By the time the sow turns to attack the murderous bird, there is confusion among the sounder, piglets shrieking alarm and splitting in any direction. The sow quickly evaluates the situation and gives the command to “freeze” to her young in a single strong grunt. While the big raptor attempts take-off with the fresh bounty in his powerful talons, the sow quickly rounds up her litter and is off to the nearest hole.
All this happens so fast that all you can do is watch nature take its course with fascination, without contemplation time for human sentiments.
At the west side of the Conservancy there is a picturesque small canyon, leading to the William Holden Wildlife Education Center. Stefanie Powers, back from an afternoon visit with students at the center decided to take the shortcut across the Conservancy to her home. With her she had three Lady members of her fan club from Germany on a visit to see her work in Africa firsthand.
Charles Simmons, another friend and donor visiting us had joined them for the ride back.
I am sure the last thing on their minds was warthogs at the precise moment when Stefanie unexpectedly hit the brakes and the truck came to an abrupt stop.
Without comment she bolted from the car and scooped up “something” off the road and cradled it in her arms.
Back at the truck she revealed the tiniest little ugly creature. It’s a warthog she announced as if that was an everyday occurrence. Alerted over our radio network, Bunge, our Wildlife Manager and I were on the scene a few moments later.
By now the trembling little gray bundle was nestling up to her body, driven by fear and in need of warmth. Stefanie instinctively held the little creature tight and close to her, until the shaking stopped and the animal began to relax.
Stefanie’s guests however, stared in silent horror as the small hogs skin began to “crawl” and came alive. LICE!! Millions of them. Our appalled friends pretended not to see, but their body language gave them away as they discreetly drew back into their seats.
It did not faze Stefanie however. She did not let go of her protective custody until we had produced a blanket to wrap the tiny mini pig. Only then did she hand it to me: “Here’s your piggy” she said, “it must have got lost, it was staggering and falling over in confusion, I saw it at the last minute, just in time to hit the brakes.”
Once the unacceptable bundle from the underworld was in my custody, Stef’s guests relaxed. The lousy creature would not share seats with them after all, and now they all became quite excited over the incident.
Stefanie and I had a quick “look” inside the blanket. “It’s a boy Stef said, and as if partners in crime we instantly had the same thought. Did we dare naming the little louse-infested ugly pig for Stefanies’ charming guest Chuck waiting in the car? We looked at each other and knew that we couldn’t resist this bit of fun: It would be Chucky!!
We got back to Stef’s truck and told the girls “You’re off the hook, it’s a boy”. Charles (Chuck) Simmons, recipient of such wicked humor accepted the dubious honor with great dignity and amusement.
Back at the animal Orphanage Bunge at once produced some animal vermin powder which we rubbed onto the worst spots of the pig’s back. The lice went mad sensing their fortune, making little Chucky even more uncomfortable.
He started shaking uncontrollably again. The tremors only stopped when he was held tight.
Finally he fell asleep in the blanket, exhausted. It gave me time to examine the rest of his body. There seemed to be no sign of injury, but the softer parts and the ears were covered in bloodsucking ticks. The vermin powder would take care of those too, given time. Evening came and I had no choice but to take him home.
The dogs and other critters sharing our home were not amused. A pig!! Small, but it smelled like a warthog and especially the dogs knew what that meant-their natural enemy. Most dogs cannot resist giving invading hogs a good chase, and in return receive some unexpected and vicious wounds caused by the courageous pigs.
In our case the house dog totally ignored the little pig showing his disrespect and displeasure of yet another critter with whom he would obviously have to share my affection for a while. At least it was not a Rhino or a pair of Lions this time.
When he woke, Chucky once again started shaking like a leaf. Nothing would calm him. We tried a little milk and he spit out the rubbery teat in disgust. ‘You’ll learn’ I thought, ‘like all the others’.
The next day I took Chucky out into the sun to warm up and spend time ‘teaching’ him to drink. It would take several days, as always. What worried me were the increasing tremors. When set down on the grass he wildly moved in circles only to fall over. The only time I have ever seen this is on TV: Mad Cow disease! But by nature an optimist I did not explore that idea any further, it was a ridiculous comparison.
Finally and for lack of a better solution I decided on injecting the little animal with high doses of Vitamins especially Vit B, hoping to calm the nerves. For the next three days I also added some Antibiotic, because Chucky had started “wheezing” badly. Things did not look good for this little fellow. I estimated him approximately 3 weeks old. What was the cause of the tremors? Was it trauma caused by an unforeseen attack on the sounder such as would have been the case in an attack by an Eagle, or was there a birth defect?
Was some kind of brain damage causing this weird behavior?
Many wild animals, when they sense something fatally “wrong” with their young will abandon them, as if to speed up nature. Only the fittest survive. When we find such animals and nurture them we only prolong the natural process, the inevitable outcome. But how do you know?
For the next 2 days there seemed to be no improvement. Chucky still shook and trembled, stumbled and fell over in a totally uncoordinated way. I told Don that I had serious doubts that he would pull through.
Then, suddenly, on the fourth morning the shakes lessened and he grew calmer. Over time Chucky emerged a changed animal gaining strength and confidence every day, and we grew fond of this comical and amusing new housemate.
By now he knew how to drink greedily, but the porridge still presented problems.
I’d have to change clothes after every ‘porridge event.’ When the feeding didn’t proceed fast enough, the ungrateful little creature got over zealous and delivered a well place nip with his tiny spiky tusks to my hand. That hurt and did not do much to endear him!
Confident that Chucky had passed the danger point I took him to the Orphanage every morning to the care of our keeper James there.
All the Orphanage animals gathered to greet the new arrival. It was quite a spectacle. Ostrich, baby Bongo, Llamas, Wildebeeste, Duiker, Bushbuck, Monkeys all at once surrounded us with their heads lowered to get a closer look at this curious new creature. But Chucky wasn’t scared. James also was soon taken in by Chucky’s charms. The friendship was mutual and Chucky thrived under his loving day care.
But come evening and night, Chucky’s life changed dramatically. He walked on carpets, sat on the sofa cuddling up to me, enjoyed the log fire, listened to classical music and slept wrapped in a blanket on a hot water bottle, dreaming about whatever pigs dream about. He quickly adapted to his “double life.”
Domestic Pigs have served the human race for centuries. Not just as a very healthy (non-red) meat but also to save human lives in the medical field. Pigs are said to be the mammal most like us in anatomy. For instance, their hearts are the closest to the human heart in size and construction. Hence, they have historically served surgeons as “guinea pigs”- so to speak, to save human lives later.
The pig’s intelligence is said to be higher than that of domestic dogs or cats and animal trainers find them easy to train and willing students.
Wild pigs are common throughout African forests and savannas. Despite a reputation for the gluttony of their domesticated cousins, the wild variety are equally intelligent, omnivorous and very adaptable.
Main varieties in Africa consist of the rare giant forest hog, the bush pig and the charismatic warthog.
Hunting wild boar on foot in Europe and Eurasia is to this day a popular sport for the more daring and adventurous hunter. In Africa, in colonial times “pig sticking” was carried out from horseback. More often than not did the pigs outsmart their hunter, with embarrassing or even disastrous consequences.
The notorious tusks of the wild boars are actually teeth that grow outwards and upwards and are used in fighting. In the case of the warthog, its large facial warts are said to protect it in head to head fighting, guiding the attackers’ tusks away from the vital facial areas such as the eyes.
Pigs communicate by a series of grunts and squeals. The typical families live in ‘sounders’ consisting of a sow, her offspring and some females of last years’ litter. Most boars only join the sows during mating season. In the case of warthogs, the boar will stay with the family for protection until the young have reached a less vulnerable age.
The natural enemies of wild pigs are many. In Africa it is mainly the Lion, Leopard and in the case of piglets the great raptors and vultures. Thus the pig plays an important role in the food chain in the animal kingdom. Its intelligence has insured its survival despite all its natural enemies.
I wonder who he thinks he “looks like” most? Who will he identify with? Will he pick one of the animals or the humans that provide care and food?
My friends teasingly offered to book college for him! They are used to seeing strange animals in our care. I cautiously never enquire what they really think of this but this time I was offered unsolicited advice anyway. Did we really think we had to “Save warthogs,” weren’t there enough of those around??
Of course they were right, well, in principle.
I believe there is a place on Earth for all God’s creatures. It is true; there are plenty of warthog around.
Their prolific breeding and survival in the harshest conditions ensures a food supply for their more endangered fellow animals such as leopard and Cheetah.
Chucky, of course, lucky pig, will not end up as a meal for his spotted colleagues, but he will “serve” them all the same.
Wasn’t one of his kind the celebrated “star” of the film “Lion King”?
I have big plans for Chucky Charismatic as he is, his niche in the animal kingdom of the Conservancy is already well defined. He will grow up to be ‘Ambassador” for his less amusing fellow animals in need.
So far he is still the smallest Orphan to join the group but has overtaken most in popularity as he careers around the Orphanage, this tiny comical pig with his ‘antenna’ tail held high. With his litany of squeaks and grunts he’s a natural entertainer. Kids and adults alike fall in love, and through him, discover the need to preserve our own wilderness heritage.
Like in our own species we elect the most popular person to become our voice in order to be heard.
So watch this space for news of Chucky, Animal Ambassador-at-large!!