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  • Writer's pictureBushwise Student

Unveiling the Fascinating World of Warthogs

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

A blog about all things warthog, by Bushwise Professional Field Guide student Emma King. Researching and writing a blog about a conservation topic or species of animal is part of Bushwise student training.

Before we hop into what warthogs are and their many fantastic facts, let me tell you about the very funny story which my topic stems from. My family has many crazy stories concerning animals that happened to us throughout the years, but the one that always makes people laugh the most is when my little brother, who was 3 years old at the time, ran up to a baby warthog at Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre and pulled its upright tail. The centre was unhappy to say the least and so were my parents but the more you think about it the funnier the story gets. 

Now that’s enough storytelling, let’s talk about why you are really here and that is to get to know and understand this spunky and wonderful animal. 

What is a warthog, or should I say who is Pumba?

A pair of warthogs drinking from a water source in a dry African environment. 

A warthog (Phacochoerus sundevallii – southern Africa; Phacochoerus Africanus – west and north Africa ) is a small grey herbivorous mammal who can live to the ripe old age of 15 years in the wild. 

Their cuteness factor increases when they go down onto their front hooves. They permanently have a look that says ‘don’t mess with me’ primarily due to their upturned tusks and their stocky stance. They are actually quite intelligent but often stop mid run as if they forgot what they were doing. 

Their heads are flat and covered in warts, hence their name. They have large nostrils and they typically squeal, snort and grunt. They are hooved animals whose tracks average 8.5 cm in length when it comes to the forefoot and 7.5 cm with the hind foot. A warthog has very little hair with only a mane down their spine and a tuft of hair at the end of their straight tail. The bristle-like hair varies between black, brown and yellow.

These adorable but unpredictable characters thrive in open grasslands, woodlands, vleis and floodplains across Africa but also occur in the desert parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. The subspecies of this desert dwelling warthog is Phacochoerus Aeliani. 

When watching warthogs, you will see that they are social animals that stay in a family group. The group is usually made up of one mature boar with one to two females (sows) and their piglets. The group usually only stays in this social environment for no more than two years. Males do break away into temporary bachelor herds.

Why do warthogs have tusks?

A male warthog with large tusks looks towards the camera. 

Warthogs use their tusks for fighting, defending and digging. The tusks are enlarged canine teeth. They have two pairs of tusks, a lower pair and a longer upper pair. Their tusks can grow to a length of around 25 cm and are made of ivory, the same material that elephant’s tusks are made of. Ivory is known for being very strong which helps them keep their tusks intact, well more-or-less, during fighting.

‘Warts and all’ as the old saying goes …

The warts are like haphazard-shaped balls made of bone and cartilage. That’s why these warts are used for protection during fights – and to store fat. 

What about baby warthogs? 

A baby warthog in focus, in front of its much larger mother behind it.

Baby warthogs are called piglets. A sow usually gives birth to two to three piglets but can have more in one litter. Mom protects her piglets by chasing them into their den or a burrow and reverses in after them so that the threat encounters her tusks first. 

More interesting facts about warthogs:

  1. The boar has more prominent warts than the sow, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 

  2. A warthog has knee pads as it often kneels on the ground to eat, this is because its short and muscular neck cannot get its head low enough to the ground to eat while standing – and here I thought they were doing yoga. 

  3. Warthogs are great foster parents and sows are known to foster and nurse piglets if they have lost their own. 

  4. They love to be groomed! Warthogs allow vervet monkeys, banded mongooses and birds to groom them and remove insects. 

  5. They love rolling in mud.

  6. They are very fast! Warthogs can reach up to 48 km/h. This helps them make a quick getaway from predators or charge you at a heck of a speed. They run with their tails straight up. 

Warthog or bushpig? 

An African bushpig, a largely nocturnal and highly secretive mammal, standing in a patch of grass in Kruger National Park.

Warthogs and bushpigs differ in that they are found in different habitats. The bush pig’s tusks are shorter and less visible, and bushpigs are omnivorous whereas warthogs are herbivorous. The bushpig lives in more dense habitats than the warthog.

The bushpig has a coat of coarse hair that is reddish to dark brown, sometimes black. They do have yellowish hair on their legs, lower jaw and which sometimes extends past the lower jaw.

I don’t know about you but I think that warthogs are pretty cool animals! Want to learn more about them? Consider joining a Bushwise course and making wildlife and conservation your career!


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