Fostering Namibian Warthogs
It was late December 2005. I had just arrived in Namibia to spend the Christmas holidays on our farm which neighbours Okonjima, when Donna radioed to tell me that there were some baby warthogs coming and I must take them as it was too busy at Africat. I had always longed to be able to bring up one of the baby animals that seemed to arrive regularly at Africat so I was quite excited as I drove up to collect them – finally I was going to be the mother of a wild animal. I have to admit though – my heart sank when I saw them. There were three of them in a cardboard box. They were alert and hyper, black hard shiny things with bulbous, hot heads and sharp little hooves and sharp teeth (though I only found that out later). They reminded me of extra-terrestrial monsters from some movie. No soft, warm, cuddly babies for me here!
I took them home in their cardboard box with a huge supply of old towels, hot water bottles, two baby bottles, vitamins and cream. My instructions were to feed them every two hours and keep them warm, particular emphasis on the latter. And so it started. I named them Piglet, Porkchop and Pigpen but I couldn't tell them apart so I had to paint their toenails with red nail polish. I fed them every two hours (give or take) with a mixture of milk, cream, egg yolk and vitamins. My little piggies were good eaters once they found the teat. Before they found the teat they were frantic – scrambling around, squeaking (read screaming) like crazy things. So the secret was to get the teat in quick but I had a problem – I only had two bottles whereas I had three pigs! So the family had to be called in to help. Later I got special bottles for rearing baby animals. They were shaped like curved test tubes with a teat on one end and a rubber bulb on the other. I was able to hold two of these in one hand so that I could feed two babies at a time and use my spare hand to fend off the other baby. Then as soon as one baby dropped off her bottle, the other was put on and I held off the third (because of course she immediately changed her mind and wanted to come back on). The feeding was actually the fun bit though. The less fun bit was constantly changing the hot water bottles and dirty towels, because these babies were not yet potty trained!
At that time they lived in a cardboard box by my bed and in between their meals they slept a lot. Everyone in the house was under orders to be very quiet in between feedings so they could sleep as LONG as possible; because as soon as they woke up, a crescendo of squeaking would develop and I had to feed them again. Donna gave me a headlight for Christmas that year. I had always hated them – thought they looked ugly – but boy was it useful! I literally slept with it on so that I could feed them at night. In the day time we would go and sit in the garden. They were pretty nervous and tended to stay close but every now and again they would have a mad dash across the lawn in a little spurt of youthful excitement. Then, when they were tired they wanted to cuddle and take a nap all squashed up together as close to me as possible in order to keep warm. Baby warthogs are very susceptible to cold. As the sun went down they would get goose bumps and start shivering. They would all pile into my lap for warmth. And they loved their hot water bottles. In the wild, warthogs, including adults, spend the night in their den, for warmth and safety from predators.
After the Christmas and New Year holidays I had to leave and it broke my heart to leave my babies – I had fallen in love with their hot, hard heads! Carla took over and managed to wean them onto solids and gave the Africat office over to them. It was never the same after they lived in it. Word seemed to get around because another warthog came to live with our three. Big Pig had been hand reared by a family in town. He was very loving and wanted to be carried around the entire time. He was older and bigger and decided he was their big brother. Latter, a fifth warthog joined our family; Penny Pig was a female but older than our three and she was always a bit aloof, although she liked Big Pig.
I came back in April 2006 and immediately requested them back again. Carla kindly pandered to my wishes. This time they were too big for a cardboard box and too big for my bedroom. So at night they slept in a big dog kennel in the barn with a nice mattress of hot water bottles and towels. They ate mealie pap from a big enamel bowl - all pushing and shoving and slurping it up as fast as they could. During the day they hung around with us. Most of the time, we'd hang out in the grass. They would investigate a bit, eat some grass and then come and stretch out next to me and take a nap. They liked sleeping on my mat and putting their head on my pillow, or using me as a pillow. We took them for walks sometimes but they didn't totally understand the concept of coming back when it was time to go home.
They were now about four months old and were not as black and shiny as when they were babies. They were dark gray with lots of dark long, tough hair. They had white hair growing along their mouths that made it look like they had tusks - presumably to make them look less vulnerable than they were. One day Piglet appeared with a cherry at the base of her tail. It looked like a perfect, shiny red cherry but unfortunately it was a prolapsed rectum. Dave donned some surgical gloves and armed himself with some KY jelly and tried to push it back in but she screamed blue murder and we gave up. So off she went to the vet and he pushed it back in and sewed her up so it couldn't pop out again. Unfortunately that happened one more time to Piglet and also one time to Porkchop.
From about six months old, they lived in a pen next to the Africat office. Their neighbours were the wild dogs and any baby cheetahs that were around. There were five of them, including Penny Pig. They shared two houses, had regular baths and wallows and ate scraps from Main Camp. We learnt that they did not think much of oranges, glace cherries or olives but they ate most other things. In 2007, we decided it was time to release them back into the wild. We built them a camp near my house as it is far from Africat with a lower density of cheetahs and leopards which would be their main predator. Just before we were ready to move them however Big Pig made Pigpen pregnant. She gave birth to Bubble and Squeak and was a great mum but it meant we couldn't release her. We were also worried that Big Pig might be too aggressive if released near a house and so he remained in the camp, with Penny Pig to keep him company. So Piglet and Porkchop moved down to the camp at my house in December 2007. The new camp was much bigger than their old one and it had a special den that had been dug for them with a metal roof inside a special 'bedroom that had a mesh roof to protect them from leopards. They were shut into their bedroom every night to keep them safe. I often went and sat with them in their camp as they remained very keen on the odd cuddle.
In April 2008, when they were a little over two years old and there was lots of grass in the veldt, we released them. But it took me a few days to bring myself to do it. For about a week we would take them for walks. It took four people to take two pigs for a walk because it was a tough job to follow them through the bush, keeping one eye on them and your other eye on where you were going, where the thorns and holes were. More than once we got completely lost and had to be guided back home with whistles from the house. Finally, we just bit the bullet and opened the gate and let them out. I was expecting them to come back to sleep that night but there was no sign of them. The next day there was still no sign of them and I lost my nerve and had the whole house out looking for them. We drove and walked and rode bikes all over the farm calling and approaching any pig we saw. No sign of them. Then on the third day they pitched up ready for food and cuddles. I am convinced they had heard us calling them but they just weren't ready to come back. From that day on they were wild pigs, but they frequently came back for food. After eating their mealie they would lie around the garden or the house like house dogs. In August 2008, we brought the others down, now numbering five – Big Pig, Penny Pig, Pigpen and her two babies. The five lived in the camp at our house until December 2008 when they too were released. Penny Pig never came back after she was released and Big Pig only came back once. But Pigpen and her boys stayed around, even though her two sons were very big by then. And best of all, Piglet and Porkchop had found boyfriends and mated and now had their own babies. Porkchop had two babies and Piglet had one. The mothers would come and visit but the babies were always wary and although they would eat the food we gave them, they never let us touch them.
Today Piglet is the only one who still comes back regularly. In December 2010 she had her second litter – three babies. Unfortunately one died so she only has two now but they all three visit regularly. We had stopped feeding them but relented in November when it was very dry and there was nothing to eat in the veldt. Luckily we did, as not only was there little grass but she was pregnant. This year however there have been amazing rains and there is food everywhere. She and her babies are fat and happy. She seems to have a den nearby as we see her almost daily. She chases away cheetahs and wild dogs as she obviously considers this 'her patch'. Porkchop's sons visit occasionally also – they like to come and lie in the sun around the breakfast table. I don't think we see the others but it is hard to tell. My baby pigs are all grown up now and mixed up with the wild pigs. Just as they should be.
Article posted: 2011-12-18 17:44:44