Category Archives: Overview

General overviews of broad topics. Detailed articles will follow at a later date addressing specific topics.

Wildlife: Warthogs (Phacochoerus africanus)

Warthogs are one of at least four unique species in the pig family (Suidae) native to Africa. Other natives include the wild boar (Sus scrofa) in northern Africa, bushpig (Potamochoerus larvatus) in east Africa and southern Africa, and giant forest hog (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni) in isolated areas of central Africa. Species of warthog occur throughout parts of central Africa as well as the equatorial regions towards southern Africa and the eastern parts of southern Africa.

Conservation Status & Threats

Warthogs, African bushpigs, and Red River Hogs are threatened by hunting and poaching for their meat, but occur in large enough populations that they are not significantly threatened as species. At regional levels Warthogs are believed to have gone locally extinct in some West and North African states.

The canine teeth of Common Warthogs develop into tusks made from the same material as teeth in other animals, including Elephants. Like the ivory taken from African and Asian Elephant species, a Warthog’s ivory tusks have been carved and used in decorative and ceremonial applications. Due to the healthy status of many Warthog populations there may not be a prohibition on the domestic or international trade of their ivory, however the illicit way their tusks are acquired makes possession and trade problematic.

Warthogs in South Africa.

Relatives & Identification

Warthogs: Up to 63-85 cm (2-3 feet) at the shoulder. Males can weigh 60 to 150 kg (130 to 330 lb) while females are notably smaller at 45 to 75 kg (100 to 165 lb). Total body length 110-180cm (3.6-6 feet).

Males have two pairs of tusks: one pair on the upper part of their mouth and a second, smaller pair on the jaw fitting. With their mouth closed they fit closely together. Females have only a pair of upper tusks which can reach as much as 15.2-25.5 cm (6.0-10.0 inches) in length. The tusks of males can be even larger with one record-setting male possessing tusks 63.5 cm (25.0 inches) in length. Despite popular belief the tusks do not become “razor sharp” from normal use, but are still considerably dangerous.

Warthog Distribution: Increasingly diminishing distribution throughout South Africa. Large distribution throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.

Bushpigs: Up to 66 to 100 cm (26 to 39 in) at the shoulder, and weigh from 55 to 150 kg (121 to 331 lb). Total body length 130-170cm (3.6-6 feet).

Bushpig Distribution: Predominantly northeastern parts of Southern Africa and reaching into southern East Africa.

The giant forest hog, which currently has a scattered distribution in tropical parts of West and Central Africa, can weigh as much as 275 kg (606 lb). All species in the Suidae family native to Africa are capable swimmers in spite of their size.

Habitat & Behavior

Warthogs live in a male-dominant hierarchical structure typically based on age, which also correlates to size. However males are typically solitary even when steward of one or more females and offspring which form a group called a sounder. Depending on the quality of their habitat and success of the male in acquiring females, it may keep more than one sounder. Multiple sounders and bachelor males of related individuals form a clan and may occupy a specific range for generations.

Adolescent and adult males do not form a permanent part of this group but during mating seasons will move among sounders for receptive females. Unsuccessful or immature bachelor males may live alone or form small bachelor herds.

Warthogs are commonly diurnal, meaning that they are active during the day and sleep at night, but some populations may be primarily nocturnal especially where human-wildlife conflict exists. They require water and prefer to live in savanna, grasslands, and lightly wooded areas, but will expand into less forgiving environments with a satisfactory supply of water. Similar to Savanna Elephants and White Rhino and Black Rhino, warthogs enjoy wallowing in mud.

Warthogs kneeling to eat short grasses. RHA

Warthogs are among the only herbivores known to kneel on their forelimbs to eat at short grasses or drink water. While leaning down they are also able to make use of their tusks to pull up roots and succulent grasses. Their tusks are also defensive tools and with head held down point forwards during a charge.

Warthogs can run at up to 55 kph (34 mph), allowing them the speed to escape many ambush predators. Typically the warthog’s fight-or-flight response leading into a charge is a retreat away from a threat, however their size, speed, and determination to get out of danger makes Warthogs a clear threat to anything standing in their path. For this reason animals and especially humans on foot must be careful when walking in areas where warthogs are potentially present as scaring them can result in an inadvertent charge.

When panicked or stressed the long hairs running along the front-half of their back will stand on end. Unlike the African Bushpig, Warthogs have muscles near their tail which draw taught when running and helps hold the tail erect. This is thought to act as a signal to other warthogs who may follow a lead warthog to safety. The raised tail has also been associated with helping young to follow their mother through high grass, though this behavior and many other aspects of Warthogs is not yet fully understood.

Adult males are capable of digging their own burrow, but may take over those made by Porcupines or Aardvarks. If abandoned by the warthog these burrows are very important for other animals able to survive only because of the protective shelters made by other species.

A sounder of Warthogs grazing in South Africa. RHA.

Reproduction & Lifespan

Warthogs keep multiple burrows, or dens, within their home range so that there is always a safe place to sleep or to raise young. These burrows are often in enormous termite mounds that can be 2-3.5 meters high and go deep underground. These locations are thought to often be partially excavated by Aardvarks that feed on the termites, leaving  a nice area to make a den for the warthogs.

Unlike Bushpig piglets which have stripes, likely to camouflage them from the eyes of predators, Warthog piglets must rely solely on its mother and burrow for protection. Warthog sows give birth away from the male and will leave the burrow with their mother after 50 days. Unlike most hoofed animals, such as impala and gazelle, warthogs commonly give birth to multiple young in a single litter. The gestation period is approximately 170 days and litter sizes are typically 2-3, but a litter with as many as 8 piglets has been recorded. It takes roughly 21 weeks to completely wean the piglets and they will become a part of the sounder until sexual maturity is reached by 18-20 months of age.

Males typically leave their mother at 15 months old, but will still be three months shy of sexual maturity and about three years away from mating. Adult males engage in fights with other males, possibly over mates or resources, but are not known to be territorial or to fight over a specific range or den. The fights involve sidling up to one another and bashing their head sideways, taking out of play the ends of the tusks and reducing dramatic injuries.

Warthogs can live for more than a decade in the wild, with some examples living for as long as 17 years. In captivity a 17-18 year lifespan is possible.

Sources:

  • “The Safari Companion: A Guide to Watching African Mammals” by Richard D. Estes
  • “Walker’s Mammals of the World” by Ronald M. Nowak
  • “Stuarts’ Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa” by Chris & Mathilde Stuart

Roles of Anti-Poaching and Conservation as the First Step in Restoring Africa

Anti-poaching efforts across Africa have been crucial during the sudden major increase in rhino poaching in the last several years. There  are many groups and many techniques used based on the group’s morals, the country’s laws, and the amount of funding that these groups can achieve which in turn supplies the rangers with the latest equipment and technology. But these methods are also critical to all conservation and humanitarian efforts in restoring Africa to its natural beauty as well as the peace and prosperity that existed before divisive conflicts over resources and country borders.

While all rangers are armed, in many countries they are not allowed to shoot on sight. Rather, they’re required to shoot only when defending themselves and proof of this must be provided to police or else the ranger may be prosecuted for murder.

It’s understandable that this puts many rangers in a difficult situation. Not being allowed to take an offensive stance towards poachers means that they may be at a disadvantage during a violent confrontation. However paramilitary training and small-unit tactics taught to rangers during their certification can significantly improve their chances to capture and arrest poachers without the need to engage in violence. While this doesn’t work in every situation the training provides the necessary skills to reduce the overall risk of an encounter and improves the odds of the rangers coming out alive.

But not all poachers are former rebels or insurgents from brutal African conflicts and civil wars, so teaching rangers how to non-violently subdue a group with threats and not direct violence is important. It also sets a good precedent when engaging local, small-time poachers or other individuals who might be engaging in criminal behavior under duress. In Africa it’s not unheard of for the criminal syndicates, the ones that act as a middle-man between the poachers and the Asian criminal syndicates involved in the rhino horn trade, to kidnap a person’s family member for details on the locations of a herd of rhino or to hold their child for ransom while their parent is forced into a group to go out into the bushveld with a firearm they don’t know how to use in order to kill a rhino.

Part of putting a stop to poaching and insurgencies, especially in Africa, is remaining civilized. If we, as a civilized world, want to right the wrongs in the world and create a better place for all of us, then we have to abide by the morals and principles that act as the foundation of our diverse societies. In some African countries “shoot-to-kill” laws are in effect against poachers — or any trespassers — but this isn’t true universally, nor is it a practical solution in every country.

Shooting to kill is also a dangerous mindset to develop if we want a stable African continent free of rebel governments, free of armies of child soldiers, and maintaining the peace and prosperity of some of the largest economies in the world. Fire can fight fire, but we have to be careful in our methodology and that we respect other nations’ civil law so that we leave the right kind of lasting impact. Africa already has problems with uninhibited violence and some countries are still recovering from long civil wars and large regional conflicts like the Rhodesian Bush War, so anti-poaching efforts need to choose carefully the most effective methods of dealing with these threats that not only suit conservation efforts, but benefit the citizens of the country. And well-trained units in South Africa have seen success in arresting poachers in some of the world’s highest-risk national parks while in Zimbabwe, which has seen its rhino populations cut down or migrate to safer countries, there are shoot-to-kill laws in effect to safeguard the rhino breeding programs that are slowly revitalizing the population.

The first step in the entire restoration process is understanding the laws and working with the local peoples of each country directly affected by poaching and foreign insurgencies. It’s imperative to establish a good relationship with the people, empower them, and help them to defend their own homes and their own resources. Many of the local African people already take great pride in protecting the animals — more so than their fellow citizens that live affluent lives in the cities and economic hot spots that share the wealth of modern industrialized nations. However this appreciation for the environment, as well as the burden of responsibility, needs to be effectively communicated to all demographics because everyone is adversely impacted by poaching.

Reducing poaching and the violence that spreads alongside it will also make regions safer to travel to for tourists. Though well-known parks and reserves like Kruger National Park in south-eastern Africa receive more than a million visitors a year equally interesting parks in nearby countries such as Namibia and Botswana, with similarly diverse wildlife and histories, are suffering from a lack of tourism which makes up a proportionately larger amount of their GDPs. Diversifying a country’s revenue may also help them to reduce the adverse effects of their mining industries, which are a large source of revenue for many countries in southern Africa and have serious effects on human health and cleanliness of the environment.

While actively deterring poaching is a critical function of wildlife protection, the second part comes in the form of conservation organizations working with locals to farm more efficiently, to raise the right kinds of animals for a community’s long-term prosperity, restore the environment, and to bring in funds to disadvantaged areas. This will reduce the amount of small-time poaching by locals and further empower communities while educating them about the wealth they have in the form of wildlife and the tourism it attracts. Locals should also be encouraged to take advantage of their proximity to natural parks and conservation efforts and fundraisers can provide them with the entrance and transportation costs — currently, most people in South Africa can’t afford to visit their own national parks. People that live and work in urban centers also benefit so much from tourism-related activities and should be encouraged to educate themselves and enjoy their incredible country. Both wealthy and disadvantaged sections of society need to contribute and take responsibility for their wildlife. As awareness and education about their resources improves, anti-poaching efforts can then be focused on higher-risk and more violent areas.

As anti-poaching and conservation efforts deter wildlife violence and aids in the restoration of peace and prosperity to a continent wealthy in resources, it also solidifies the foundation of entire nations and enriches them so that they might improve upon their infrastructure in environmentally conscientious ways. It’s important to actualize the small investments in time, money, and manpower now, before populations of rhino decrease below sustainable levels, and before the tourism industries of Africa dry up and devastate the real estate, agriculture, and small businesses that are supported by it. And new technologies shared with and developed specifically to help conservation efforts, such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and wildlife tracking systems will help to develop entirely new sectors or bolster existing markets.

If you would like to learn more about efforts to stop poaching, please take a look at the Objective page and learn why conservation is important and how anti-poaching methods can assist in protecting the world’s wildlife and improve standards of living for humans. If you’re ready to make a commitment to preserving our wildlife, take a look at the Conservation Organizations & Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers featured on the Donate page for organizations that you can support. If you’re ready to get involved in your own adventure then jump over to the Get Involved page.

(Image: Two Africa White Rhinos in Nakuru Africa. Image is under the public domain.)

Overview: Poaching in Africa and Asia

Poaching has already taken a huge toll in Asia. A wild cheetah hasn’t been seen in India since before the 1960s and few remain in Iran. Populations of leopards and tigers throughout Asia have been culled to extreme levels that the animals may not bounce back from even with human help. And China’s killing of sharks is another widespread problem that shows little understanding of the finite supply of animals and the harm to the environment by using them in traditional medicines or cultural dishes. It’s imperative to increase the existing conservation efforts and put additional emphasis on educating the people that participate in the trade of animal parts.

Black rhino populations are reaching a critical point in Africa, just like tigers in Asia, and it’s estimated that fewer than 4,000 exist in all of Africa. Populations of all sub-species of white rhino have also been reduced by more than 90% due to hunting and poaching over the last century with an estimated 14,500 left in all of Africa. Rhino poaching in South Africa alone has accounted for more than 600 rhino confirmed killed in 2012 and over 1000 killed in 2013. This is despite the efforts of numerous anti-poaching groups and the South African National Defense Force which operates in South Africa’s portion of the 19,485 square kilometer (7,523 mi2) Kruger National Park.

Source: http://www.helpingrhinos.org/about-rhinos/rhino-poaching/
1004 rhinos were killed in South Africa in 2013 and 37 have been killed in the first 17 days of January 2014.

Image Source: http://www.helpingrhinos.org/about-rhinos/rhino-poaching/

Data Source: https://www.environment.gov.za/mediarelease/rhinopoaching_statistics_17jan2014

Asian countries are the primary importers of illegal rhino horn and elephant tusks. China and Vietnam need to continue to fight myths about mystical uses for rhino horn. However every country has a role in educating its people about the utility of animals and that while there are many things to gain from animals, baseless traditions of showing off one’s wealth by eating shark fin soup has no place in modern society.

There are many breeding and habitat adaptation programs to accelerate growth of tiger populations, and even efforts to introduce tigers into Africa which may prove a perfect habitat for them. But a concerted effort is also needed to pursue and prosecute illegal hunters as well as deal with the insurgents crossing country boundaries and targeting civilians.

Related Posts:

Working on the Front Line Against Rhino Poaching

An Explanation of Poaching

If you would like to learn more about efforts to stop poaching, please take a look at the Objective page and learn why conservation is important and how anti-poaching methods can assist in protecting the world’s wildlife and improve standards of living for humans. If you’re ready to make a commitment to preserving our wildlife, take a look at the Conservation Organizations & Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers featured on the Donate page. If you’re ready to get involved in your own adventure then jump over to the Get Involved page.

(Title Image: Head of a male Javan rhino shot on 31 January 1934 at Sindangkerta in West Java. Specimen preserved in the Zoological Museum of Buitenzorg (Bogor) (from Sody, 1941, first published in Indonesia). From the RhinoResourceCenter.com)

An Explanation of Poaching

Poaching is the unlawful act of killing an animal. In Africa poaching takes two forms: small-animal poaching in order to feed one’s family or quickly make a few dollars at the local market selling fresh game meat; or killing 5,900kg (13,000 pound) elephants in order to cut off their tusks which get sold on the black market.

The repercussions of poaching extend beyond the loss of an animal’s life and effect the ecosystem which is supported by that animal species, the people whose way of life may depend on that species, as well as the danger of having rogue gunman loose in a peaceful and economically prosperous country such as South Africa which is the 33rd largest economy in the world. Anti-poaching efforts work toward removing threats to humans and wildlife and putting an end to needless destruction of animals through active, armed protection; sweeping for snares and traps; animal tracking and conservation; and endorsing legislation to make it harder for poachers to profit from the butchering of animals.

In many cases poaching in Africa targets elephants for their ivory tusks, rhinoceros for their horn, and leopards for their beautiful skins. These animals are illegally killed all across Africa, on private reserves and in public National Parks, and their resources sold on the black market to distant countries. The animals’ bodies are left to rot in the fields. The money made from these animals doesn’t go to the public which pays for the parks, nor does it go to the private game reserves which serve tourists and private investors alike. Much of the money goes to criminal syndicates and warlords only interested in destabilizing regions and entire governments and acquiring as much power for themselves as they can at the expense of the developed world. These criminal syndicates then sell their ivory and rhino horn to Asian criminal syndicates for even greater profits where the ivory is eventually sold to wealthy, highly connected individuals and where rhino horn is used in traditional medicines.

The sale of ivory is banned in many western countries, but demand from Asia for animal parts remain a primary motivating factor in poaching in Africa, India, and the South Pacific. And this poaching is responsible for what will be the inevitable extinction of rhinoceros in just a few years. Ivory tusks are seen as a status symbol by many people, including westerners. However demand for ivory by a growing upper-middle class in Asia is straining the economies of other nations and damaging ecosystems that many Asians may not be aware exist. Poaching also directly puts human lives in danger as poachers become increasingly violent in their bid to kill as many rhino as possible.

The death of elephants and rhino, the largest species of land animals in existence on the planet, is unwarranted yet increasing yearly. Their ivory is a status symbol only for the ignorant and uninformed, though it becomes rarer with every elephant killed. Rhino horn is useless as a medicine or stimulant. It is made out of keratin, the same protein that human fingernails and hair is made from. Keratin also makes up the beaks and feathers of birds. Keratin has virtually no nutritional value and certainly no medicinal value in curing bad luck or restoring a person’s spiritual energy.

Related Posts:

Working on the Front Line Against Rhino Poaching

Overview: Poaching in Africa and Asia

If you would like to learn more about efforts to stop poaching, please take a look at the Objective page and learn why conservation is important and how anti-poaching methods can assist in protecting the world’s wildlife. If you’re ready to make a commitment to preserving our wildlife, take a look at the Conservation Organizations & Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers featured on the Donate page. If you’re interested in how to get involved in your own adventure then jump over to the Get Involved page.