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I ain’t graceful, I ain’t beautiful, but I’m cute!

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Flanked by the majesty of the Udzungwa and Uluguru Mountains and extending east almost to the shores of the Indian Ocean is Mikumi National Park. Mikumi is the northern neighbour of Selous and fourth in the family line-up behind its bigger brothers and sisters – the Serengeti, Selous, and Ruaha National Parks. Many animals call Mikumi “home” - lion, zebra, eland, impala, buffalo, giraffe, greater kudu, sable antelope, and over 400 bird species. But today, I’m going to tell you a story you least expect.

The featured attraction is an entertaining little critter; one that seldom gets the starring role in blogs. He has been showing up everywhere since I started blogging as if he’s begging me to do a feature spread about him. So, my dear little friend, here is my long overdue tribute to you. As the French would say, this is the story of “phacochere” - the warthog!! 

 

Warthogs may not be the most aesthetically appealing in the animal kingdom (and they don’t even rank in importance on the conservation alert list as “extinct” or “threatened”), but they always manage to get honourable mention when we recount our stories from a game drive. What other animal can compare to the stylish peculiarity and eccentricity of the warthog?

This member of the pig family is no ordinary hog! This solo-comedy act is irresistible, no matter how many times he crosses your path. You can spot him miles away with his oversized head covered with large wart-like protrusions, flat face, elongated snout, and four remarkable tusks curving upward which are handy for digging and fighting. For the most part, he is bald, but he can brag about having a fairly lush mane that cascades down his spine to the middle of his back.  His vision is poor, but he compensates for this by having a very good sense of smell and hearing. And he struts around with self-importance like it’s nobody’s business! 

When he is alarmed, he flattens his ears, lifts his tail, puts his stubby little legs in motion, and jiggles 150 pounds of pork across the savannah...snorting all the way! Neither grace nor beauty, but he is a surprisingly fast little cross-country runner clocking 50 kms an hour!

He runs...he stops abruptly...then he glances back to see if you are following. And if you aren’t in hot pursuit, he caulks his head, stares at you in playful and gobsmacking disbelief, and wonders why you aren’t taking up the chase!  “Why aren’t you chasing me? Aren’t I worth chasing? Where’s the fun in you gawking at me through those binoculars and snapping photos? Chase me, darn it!!”

When he isn’t trekking across the savannah, the warthog can be found grazing on short grasses and plants or rubbing against trees and termite mounds as part of his daily grooming ritual. Most photo-worthy is the warthog kneeling skilfully on his hairy little knees to eat the grass or using his snout to dig for roots or bulbs during the dry season. When he isn’t grazing, you likely will spot him wallowing in a nearby mud puddle – a luxury accommodation to escape both the midday heat and the pesky insects that cling incessantly to his mane. 

But never fear, the warthog will never attack. He chooses to flee before he’d ever participate in combat. A flight response usually entails invading a hole dug by aardvarks. He flops effortlessly backward into the hole so his feet are free to defend himself against predators that get too close.

 

Thank you, phacochere, for giving me hours of pleasure watching you. There are few animals in the bush that can evoke such joy and laughter. Cheers to phacochere!

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