Tag Archives: Ivory

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.


  • “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

How Products Get Into the Hands of Tourists: Stolen Goods, Labor Exploitation, and Poaching

This is Part 2 of a series on How Products Get Into the Hands of Tourists and includes an analysis of tourist souvenirs and things I learned and observed as a low-impact tourist in southern Africa.

You can read Part 1 here: How Products Get Into the Hands of Tourists: Sustainable Tourism and Smart Tourism.

Tourists like to get a memento or souvenir that reflects the culture or place that they’ve visited and many people treat it as an opportunity to get themselves something special while also putting money into the host country’s economy. For local and regional economies dependence on tourism can be very strong so any income gained from tourists is reflected significantly in the country’s Gross Domestic Product through selling goods (souvenirs) and services (safaris). But whether or not this money makes it back into the economy in a healthy way depends on who the tourists buy from and what the seller does with the money afterwards. The origin of these goods has a direct impact on the economy’s long-term resources, which equates to economic health, and also impacts the environment that these resources are taken from or were produced in.

Normally reinvesting the revenue from sales would be a priority for a business to ensure future growth. And with the extremely high prices that tourist shops charge, sometimes more than 10 times what they paid for the items themselves, it should be relatively easy to create a viable business that benefits the local or even national economy. But illegitimate businesses, sidewalk sellers, and people that sell goods and don’t pay taxes aren’t interested in building up a strong long-term financial plan. They take money in and spend it just as quickly, then want bargain prices from the people that actually make the goods so that the illegitimate business can make a nice profit. And the cycle continues, keeping wages of craftsmen down and the value of resources very low. Often this has a detrimental impact on the local environment, where resources like wood or stone will be taken directly without thought to its sustainability either for the environment or for businesses. With an unquantified dependence on natural resources and an unclear economic future, this spells uncertainty for the rest of the industry’s growth and development.

Getting to the Source

It’s critical to remember that supporting the local economy only works if you support legitimate, long-term businesses. And you don’t need to see a PowerPoint with a 10-year business strategy to see whether a business is legitimate and has some plan for the future.

Many of the tourist shops that I found in Zimbabwe sold “hand carved” wooden and stone figures as well as wooden bowls and statues. Going from one shop to another it became obvious that many of the bowls were the same and had simply been painted in different styles. They had probably been manufactured in the same place and the same way, then sold to different shops that were looking for specific patterns or colors that they would say was authentic to the region. But what stood out most was that the shops had obvious long-term potential as souvenir shops by offering a clear place for tourists to shop and in some cases had craftsmen to supply their shops nearby. The people loitering on the sides of the roads hoping to sell a souvenir to tourists had no long-term prospects and were simply trying to make a wage. However by choosing the path that was least likely to be successful, and required the least amount of effort, the sidewalk salesmen put themselves at a longterm disadvantage and lied to their prospective customers about the source of their “hand carved” products.

Calling the products “hand carved” wasn’t entirely deceitful: the products were hand carved, and it’s no stretch of the imagination that they were made in one of Zimbabwe’s industrial centers. However from what I discerned the “I made this myself” line is almost always an appeal to the customer’s emotions and not factually accurate at all. But in general the claim that the items were hand carved was mostly true. Overall the vastly different pricing from illegitimate street vendors and over-priced shops as well as competition between unemployed, local craftsmen and distant employees of a workshop made determining the value and origin of a product a bit tricky.

A photo of semi-legitimate souvenir shops, though far less official than the shopping center found in the town center of Zimbabwe’s tourist hot-spot Victoria Falls. (“Falls souvenir market” photo from www.hnlc.org.au/reedbuck/ – 2007)

While in Zimbabwe I was offered many products by street vendors and other locals that roamed the streets preying on tourists. Among them were the currency of the country which due to dire economic situations that had caused hyperinflation were completely worthless. I stayed away from buying any of the currency because it doesn’t do the country any good and buying bank notes from unemployed people contributes to their unwillingness to make a positive impact. I was also offered lion claws which can’t be collected without killing the lion and aren’t removed from lions hunted on private reserves because trophy hunters want the animal as intact as possible. Being offered these sorts of items is always a red flag that the vendor is receiving goods and animal parts from illegal sources. However I was curious about where all the crafted items came from. Having so many variations on the same designs suggested that there was either a centralized manufacturing center producing all of these (perhaps one of Zimbabwe’s industrial towns or maybe even China) or whether everyone was crafting the same items because that’s what tourists liked best.

There were also a few tourist items that I saw which were not authentic to the region. Traditional wooden masks are not used by the peoples of southern Africa and are more common in western African countries among the people that live in traditional villages. Similarly there were some dolls and related craft items which looked to be made by local seamstresses but when I asked about their origin I was told that they were not traditional items from that region.

Bulawayo is the industrial capital of Zimbabwe and before the economic collapse of the country was an important hub of southern Africa, providing transportation of people and industrial supplies. But much of the stone carvings, most popular were individual carvings of Africa’s most famous dangerous game, were said to be produced locally. Some of the craftsmen using power tools to cut and carve the pieces were working not far from one tourist section in Victoria Falls. I wasn’t allowed into the room, but I was shown the origin of the carvings. A couple of guys were carving all the stones which had been picked up as suitable for turning into a tourist souvenir. It was loud and dusty work to cut and smooth raw stone and it made me think of miners who have to deal with long hours and poor labor conditions. On top of that these guys didn’t seem to make much from their efforts.

The harder I bargained with the guys selling the finished product the lower the price got from what they had initially offered — and the angrier they got that I wasn’t giving into their demands. Of four of the sellers of stone carvings I was able to bargain three of them down to under a third of their $15 asking price. And one of those sellers next-door to a stone figure seller offered me a small wooden box for $150 that I bargained him down to $30. But of course I didn’t buy it.

But if the souvenir sellers were asking $4-5 as a minimum for the stone carvings then they were still making a profit. And the people that had actually done the carving and had to pay for maintenance on the equipment would have gotten even less for each piece. Even in poor nations $2 doesn’t stretch very far. The average income in Zimbabwe is said to be around $300 a month, of course with unemployment officially listed at around 80% according to state media, that figure is comparatively high for the rest of the country. As a tourist it’s important to contribute to the local economy and the overall economy of countries that depend on tourism, but paying the incredibly inflated rates that souvenir sellers and shop owners ask isn’t trickling down to the people that actually make the products. And with pay so low it provides incentive to take resources as cheaply as possible, which equates to illegally and unsustainably.

Stolen Goods, Poached Resources

When it came to items crafted from wood I couldn’t be sure that what I saw had been sourced locally and sold by locals in Victoria Falls was acquired legally. This stems from a number of things: economic desperation on the part of the locals; extremely high unemployment; ease of acquiring things from other people’s property; and historical grievances and dissatisfaction with land ownership. Larger pieces of wood, particularly from slow-growing trees, are more likely to be cut down from a living tree and be taken illegally from a private reserve or national park. As larger pieces are more valuable and increasingly harder to find the scope of wood poaching is spreading.

While wood poaching seems inconsequential to most people the acts of cutting down live trees, trespassing, and exploiting someone else’s property does have a tangible effect on the market, environment, and on the way that private reserves view the local people that may live just on the other side of the fence.Wood poaching and illegal logging doesn’t only happen on a small scale. It plagues Madagascar and other countries that have large tropical and sub-tropical forests while supplying other nations with cheap hardwood. It also undermines the prices of wood throughout the rest  of the world.

A traditional bowl from Zimbabwe made of Mopane.  US and UK coins for scale.
A traditional bowl from Zimbabwe made of Mopane. US and UK coins for scale.

Many of the bowls I saw were crafted from the wood of a Mopane tree (Colophospermum mopane), a very durable and reasonably heavy wood. Many animals depend on the shelter and resources that trees provide and Mopane is particularly important to the people and wildlife of southern Africa. Some organisms like the Mopane worm (actually a sort of caterpillar) eat Mopane leaves and wood almost exclusively (and the Mopane worm is a traditional food for humans and a novelty for tourists). Elephants favor Mopane trees as well, and they will physically destroy other trees so that a forest of Mopane can grow.

This underscores the importance of knowing where a resource is being taken from. If Mopane trees all get cut down in a region it’ll have a lasting impact on the local economy’s ability to produce tourist goods. It will also impact where the elephant live and, as a major tourist attraction, the local economy will suffer without enough resources for the elephants.


The above rhino is carved from the hearty Wild Olive tree or African olive (Olea europaea africana) which has no trouble growing in various terrain types in southern Africa. These trees grow to be very large and have thick trunks, however it is a very slow growing tree and some specimens of similar subspecies are hundreds of years old. Besides the olive fruit that these trees bear, the traditional uses have been for harvesting leaves and bark to make medicines to treat sore throat, diarrhea, and other illnesses. Some wildlife and livestock will eat from the tree and humans can use the roots and timber.


This rhino made of African Black Ironwood (Olea capensis), which is part of the olive family and unrelated to the Black Ironwood (Krugiodendron ferreum) found in the Caribbean and Central America, gets its name because of how heavy it is and how dark the wood can be. Carvings like this can command a price similar to that of the rhino made of Wild Olive wood despite being many times smaller. Large carvings made of Ironwood that are similar in size to the olive wood rhino can retail for hundreds of dollars. That’s because the tree this wood comes from is slower growing and after decades of deforestation and poaching, people have to go farther to find suitable ironwood trees — at times even into local reserves and national parks. Like Mopane (shown below), Ironwood is a very dense wood and a favorite for use as firewood because of how long it will burn.

A rhino cut from Wild Olive, a piece of natural Mopane, a small rhino cut from Ironwood, and UK and US coins for scale.
A large rhino cut from Wild Olive, a piece of natural Mopane, a small rhino cut from Ironwood, and UK and US coins for scale.

Other exotic woods such as Ebony and Teak are highly prized by craftsmen both in Africa and in the West for their beauty and durability. When furnishing our cars or homes with beautiful hardwood floors we rarely consider the origin of the wood and whether it comes from a legitimate company much less sustainable source. Ultimately this plays an important roll in large-scale illegal logging, but small-scale poaching can be just as damaging to the environment and is even more dangerous for the rangers, conservationists, and civilians that encounter wood poachers.

Animal parts gained from low-level poaching, such as porcupine quills and lion claws are also problematic and put the community’s economy at a disadvantage by relying on unsustainable which perpetuates the poor choices of the illegitimate businesses that sell those products. And these industries directly support wildlife poaching and wildlife trafficking in their region and indirectly provide incentive for poachers to continue to supply Asia, the United states, and the Middle East with exotic animals, ivory, and rhino horn.

But tourists do have a choice when offered products of unknown origin and disrepute. Making that choice and being an informed consumer, whether at home or abroad, is not so difficult. Furthermore, low-impact and sustainable tourism is still possible despite the issues outlined above and tourists simply need to keep in mind the source and provenance of the goods and services that are being offered to them and be firm in their morals (and safety) when deciding whether to purchase a product or service.