Wild Warthog Lowers His Powerful Tusks and Asks for a Belly Rub
Written by Karen Paolillo of the Turgwe Hippo Trust in Zimbabwe
This is in memory of Arthur who is no longer with us, but his offspring continue to live out their wild lives, and so this amazing Warthogís genes live on.
Back in 1992, the year of the drought, I was doing my best to save the last Turgwe Hippos living in the river below our camp. People might say what right one has to interfere with Nature. Well I reckon if you live alongside it in an area designated as a wildlife Conservancy, which we humans in the past have at times interfered with, not only with the animals but with the very soil of Africa, then it’s up to us to lend a hand when Nature is giving its citizens a rough time.
So for 10 long months, I provided food for the hippos and any wild animals that found my feeding station. This food allowed not just the last 13 hippos to survive but countless other animals, one of which was Arthur.
He had come in as an old Warthog and would have been one of the first to succumb. He fed, got fat, survived and left as did all of the animals that I looked after during that time.
Was This the Same Animal?
One year later, a very thin old Warthog suddenly arrived at our kitchen door. Could it be Arthur, we asked ourselves. Sure enough, the one broken tusk was evidence that it was. So he came back to the place he remembered where food had appeared at a time of none. So what could I do? He and his kind had been the most severely hit animals during that drought period, hundreds had died, so it didnít seem to be wrong to offer him food again as he was so old and thin.
At first as a wild creature and a big boar at that, he could be exceedingly scary with his one sharp tusk and his attitude of ‘donít mess with me.’ He would charge at myself or my husband if we bumped into him outside, and so we learnt to keep a wary eye out for him. He would come each night and stand at the door patiently. I would lean out, put some game nuts on the ground, and he would step forward and eat. This carried on for months and then the rains came and grass and food was bountiful, but still Arthur visited our home.
By now he was a solid, healthy-looking chappie with flesh covering his old bones and no longer was he as cheeky. So we could walk within a distance of him without fear. Yet anyone who knows Warthogs will tell you the boars can be a handful and you must always be aware of their strength. Not our Arthur, though, he wanted something much more than food as I was to find out.
He Wanted More Than a Meal
One evening I was laying out his supper as he stood very close to the door and by accident my hand knocked one of the huge warts that give him his name. Instead of lunging at me in anger, he leaned his full weight against my hand. So I did what I felt he wanted; I scratched that big fat wart with my fingertips. Well this was the magic moment when Arthur and I first connected.
From that day on, each night Arthur would arrive and lean on my hand at the back door to have his scratching time. One day I was feeling particularly brave and so I slowly, very slowly, moved my hand towards his stomach area. Well, to my utter astonishment, Arthur fell on his side rolling over and presenting me with his belly. Arthur was telling me in no uncertain tones, ‘please scratch my tummy.’
Arthur continued to visit us for the next few years, always for tummy rubs and often wanting a rub and ignoring food. Through all of these years, I kept our relationship a wild one in that I never wanted Arthur to look upon a human as an ally as other people might not be so kind to him. Poachers love to kill Warthogs. So all of our loving was carried out by the back door. If ever we met up in the bush I didnít even call to him, I would smile, wave and continue on my way. He knew it was me but he also knew our space was at the back door and so this behavior continued.
He Was Injured, Would He Trust Me to Help?
One day Arthur came home with this humongous abscess on the side of his neck. There was only one thing to do and that would be to put tea tree oil on it and try to cut into the abscess to drain the puss. How does one do that with an entirely wild large Warthog?
Well itís easy. You bring along your husband, a razor blade and a lot of faith and you ask Arthur if he will allow two humans to help him.
Being the incredibly intelligent creature that Arthur was, he did just that. Lying on his belly while I scratched, Jean cut at the abscess, successfully draining the puss. I wouldnít have believed it possible if I had not been there that very day and seen it for myself.
Arthur was also not as old as we thought, for one day he surprised us, arriving with a wife and three piglets. They prospered and one, his son Naf Naf, looked his absolute image.
When all hell broke out here in 2000 and the land was illegally invaded, thousands of wild animals were killed. Arthur and his family continued to come along, but I feared for their lives every single day. One day Jeannie arrived without him but the piglets were all there. Arthur never did come home again.
To this day, I tell myself that he died naturally, lying somewhere against a rock warming himself on a bright sunny day. I refuse to believe that man ended his life. Arthur was too intelligent to let that happen to him. He was old and he had had an amazing life and he had brought me the biggest honor in my life, the friendship of a wild Warthog and a woman.
Rest in peace, my beautiful friend.†† (More photos here of Karen at the Turgwe Hippo Trust)