The day we left for Botswana for the first time, back in 2015, I stopped by both of my sisters’ houses to say bye to my nephews for a few weeks.
At my youngest sister’s house, I sat with her boys piled on me and asked them which animals they hoped we saw in Botswana.
“Giraffe!” Shouted one.
“Giraffes!” Echoed his brother.
“Piggies!” The youngest chimed in, with volume and conviction.
It was a strange answer, but I loved it for its originality and honesty. So, when we saw warthogs on the side of the road we dutifully took a photo for him. To this day, when I see a warthog I smile and think of him.
See warthogs we do. They’re all over Mokolodi Nature Reserve and, unlike the trio we spied two years ago, are pretty chill about you getting up close to snap their photos. They spend lots of time on their front knees, propped up among guinea fowl and doves, rooting around for roots. It’s, uh, weird looking. We’ve managed to get pretty close in the car when they’re doing this, and they’re preoccupied enough that they don’t run off.
If they’re not foraging for roots they’re in the shade of the thorn trees or wallowing in mud, as they were when we saw them at the Gaborone Game Reserve. When they run they hold their tails stock straight in the air so that they can see each other as they run through tall grasses. Otherwise we mostly see them under the trees or out among the birds. Occasionally we’ll find them lying on their sides in the shade.
They’re, um, not attractive. There are any number of strange looking animals here, but it is difficult to find something cute about a warthog. Our trusty Audubon Field Guide to African Wildlife notes that they are a “long-legged, level-backed, unpatterned gray hog,” the males sporting “paired warts beside the eyes.” Even the piglets aren’t much to look at. They are, according to one site, “Neither graceful nor beautiful.”
In general, they’re stocky, dull-colored animals. The males have big tusks, they all have massive heads and a smattering of bristly hair. They have bulging foreheads and huge snouts. As pigs go, they’re no Wilbur.
They are some pig, though. Apparently, they’re the only wild pig that can go a long time without water, which comes in handy in southern Africa. Audubon even gets a bit poetic, highlighting the “sensitive lips” the warthogs use to harvest grass seeds. Lonely Planet’s guide says that each of their ugly features basically adds up to an ingenious adaptation – the snout for shoveling up tubers, the ears and high-set eyes for staying alert to predators while rooting in the ground, and the warts for protection during headbutting matches between males, which can sometimes turn bloody.
They’re not much to look at, but sometimes I can photograph one so that it doesn’t look so bad, after all.
In prepping for this post I read that groups of warthogs are called sounders (how’s that for some great trivia?) and that they’re mainly made up of mothers, daughters, and sisters who, together, raise the young. I smiled to learn that – thinking of my own female-dominated family sharing the raising of our young, and my nephew’s insistence that we keep an eye out for them. They may not be easy on the eyes, but these piggies deserve a second look.