Our warthogs reside in the spacious exhibit that is located along the speed ramp that runs from the Asian Passage up to Elephant Odyssey. The exhibit is equipped with a large faux termite mound that the warthogs can utilize as a burrow. On the morning of June 7, I knew something was afoot as our male, Kubwa, was resting in an alternate location alone. Kubwa and Lulu are normally side by side, especially when sleeping. Knowing that warthog mothers prefer to isolate themselves when giving birth, I suspected that was what had happened.
For almost three whole days we saw neither hide nor hair of Lulu, but we allowed her privacy as an experienced mom who had successfully raised a litter of three in 2011. Finally, on the afternoon of June 9, I noticed Lulu was out of the termite mound for a bite to eat and a quick, refreshing wallow. Shortly thereafter, a tiny piglet came to the mouth of the burrow. It hopped around a few times, nosed a small clod of dirt, and then quickly retreated back to the safety of the burrow and the comfort of mom. A few days later, I observed two piglets at the same time, confirming that our warthog family had grown by two.
For the next two months we would only catch fleeting glimpses of our piglet pair. Lulu was a dutiful mom, mostly keeping her youngsters in the safe confines of the termite mound. Both the keeper staff and Kubwa gave Lulu a wide birth as she jealously guarded her newborns. Eventually, the piglets became more independent, and Mom allowed them to wander farther from the burrow. They have even become brave enough to grab treats from my hand, after Lulu gets her fair share, of course!
Finally able to get a close look, we were able to determine that we had a boy and a girl. We decided to name them Groot and Mizizi. Groot’s name pays homage to his father, as groot is Afrikaans for large while kubwa has the same meaning in Swahili. Mizizi’s name means rooting, a common warthog activity as they search for food or dig a cooling wallow.
Warthogs are a vital cog to the African savanna ecosystems. Unfortunately for the warthog, they are an important prey for nearly every predator they might encounter. Lions, leopards, hyenas, crocodiles—you name it, and it will gladly eat a warthog. Some larger eagles are even known to prey upon warthog piglets. I’ve watched some very impressive film footage of a female leopard that “specialized” in hunting warthogs. There was even video of her teaching her cubs how to raid a warthog burrow full of piglets while mama warthog was out foraging. This is not to say that warthogs are helpless pushovers. They have long, razor-sharp tusks that they will readily use to defend themselves and, especially, their offspring.
Even though warthogs are considered common, they deserve our conservation attention because of the role they play in Africa’s food chain. Warthogs are often persecuted by humans because of their habit of raiding croplands. They are also unwanted guests because they attract the predators that prey upon them.
Our warthog piglets are growing by leap and bounds each day. Make sure to stop by and get a glimpse of their adorable porcine antics.
Todd Speis is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, A Jaguar’s Legacy.