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THE BUSHPIG

17 July 2014

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The bushpig Potamochoerus larvatus was originally thought to be a variant of the wild hog Potamochoerus porcus which occurs in the rain forests of Central and West Africa. The bushpig was first described scientifically in South Africa as Sus koiropotamus by Desmoulins in 1831 based on a specimen that was collected some 150 km away from the Cape of Good Hope, but was later renamed Potamochoerus larvatus following F. Cuvier’s name of 1822. There are sevaral subspecies in Africa, with Potamochoerus larvatus koiropotamus in the southern parts of South Africa and Potamochoerus larvatus nyasae in the northern ones. The bushpig developed from an ancestral wild pig in West and Central Africa.

Although it superficially resembles the warthog, the latter has 32 to 34 permanent teeth as opposed to 40 to 44 in the bushpig. The bushpig also has a more hairy coat and the boar only has two smaller, facial warts below the eyes as opposed to four larger ones of a warthog boar, while the sow has none as opposed to two in the warthog. In the bushpig the lower tusks are larger than the upper ones, and in the warthog it is the reverse. The head of a bushpig is longer than that of the warthog.

In the bushpig, the boar is slightly larger than the sow and has a shoulder height that varies from 66 cm to 1 m, with a mean weight of around 72 kg as opposed to 69 kg in the sow. In southern Africa the coat colour is reddish-brown to dark brown and the body is covered in long, sparse bristles that can be up to 80 cm long. There is a mane of pale, buffy to yellow erectile hair. The forehead, the top of the face and the cheeks are pale, while the lower parts of the face and the underparts are black or dark brown. The limbs are black. On the sides of the face along the angle of the jaw there is a thick patch of long, whitish to yellowish hair which may extend forward along the jaw. The ears are much more pointed than those of the warthog and in some individuals there are distinct, paler patches of hair under the eyes. The hooves are broader than in the warthog which enables recognition of the track.

Bushpigs occur widely in forests, thickets and riparian undercover in Africa where there is dense cover and water. In spite of some intensive control campaigns, the population has increased with time. The bushpig is a predominantly nocturnal animal but it can be active in the day in the winter. A primary activity phase in the summer occurs from dusk to midnight and a secondary one before sunrise early in the morning. Socially, the bushpig is monogamous and gregarious and it moves about in sounders of four to six, but occasionally as many as 18 animals. Each sounder contains a dominant boar and sow which breed, subadult sows and piglets. However, there are also solitary animals. The members of a sounder containing piglets are more aggressive than those without them and can drive a human intruder into a tree for hours. The dominant boar leads the piglets to feeding areas and guards them.

Encounters with the boars of other sounders seldom lead to actual contact because they mainly evoke threat dispays in which the boars lie down, roll over, advance, circle each other and push each other around head to head until one of them loses confidence and moves away. However, the sows are intensely aggressive about the integrity of their territories, and they become increasingly intolerant of the piglets when they get older.

Bushpigs are highly territorial, with the mean size of the range in the Knysna Forest being 7.2 km2. The range is traversed every one to four days. Bushpigs move around over a mean distance of 3 km per day but it can be as little as 0.5 or as much as 5.8 km per day. The territory is marked by tusking trees to deposit the scent from glands on the side of the face that open around the base of the upper tusks. Both sexes have digital glands and use latrines for defecation. They follow the trails of wildlife through the forest and wallow in mud for temperature regulation and to rid themselves of or to protect themselves against biting insects.

When being driven, they break through lines of beaters and become quite aggressive. A wounded bushpig is aggressive, with the sharp, lower tusks being especially dangerous. Bushpigs swim well and cross rivers freely. When being persecuted may hide in water, sometimes by resting the head on floating logs. When wildlife were rescued after the closure of the Kariba Dam, some bushpigs were found still swimming strongly some 1.2 km away from the nearest island.

Bushpigs are omnivores that browse and root for food with the hard, upper edge of the snout and the tusks in damp places. They dig well and can excavate holes as deep as 20 cm in soft soil but unlike the warthog they cannot root in hard soil because they cannot rest on their carpal bones to get close to the ground. Moreover, their bulbous snouts are constructed differently from those of the warthog.

The dominant food consists of plant material and rooting is directed at the underground rhizomes of grasses, sedges and ferns and the bulbs and tubers of plants. They also root for earthworms and eat the pupae of defoliating insects by using their keen sense of smell to detect them. They also eat wild fruits, animal matter, truffles and fungi such as mushrooms. In agricultural areas they are known to have killed chickens, piglets and newborn goat kids and sheep lambs. In forests they follow vervet monkeys and baboons to pick up fruits that are being dropped to the ground. In the Knysna Forest they follow elephants to eat the food which they dislodge from trees, and food remains in their faeces. Bushpigs also root in and eat soil for its mineral content.

Boars become sexually mature at an age of 16 to 20 monhts but social hierarchy prevents them from breeding until much later. The sows first conceive when they are 17 to 22 months old. Breeding occurs throughout the year but peaks in the late autumn to early winter. Gestation lasts 17 weeks and the sow constructs a nest of grass resembling a small haystack that is some 1 m deep and 3 m wide by plucking tall grasses and carrying them to the nest site in a woodland or on a broken, rocky hillside. She bores into the pile of grass to litter deep into it so that the piglets are warm and protected from the weather at birth. Sometimes a sow will litter in a hollow log. The mean litter in the wild contains 2.1 piglets but the litter size can be as much as eight. A piglet weighs 700 to 800 g at birth and has a reddish-brown coat with conspicuous yellowish or buffy stripes which become indistinct at the age of three months when the coat consists of bright, orange-red, bristly hair. The dorsal stripe becomes white at an age of five to six months and the coat markings are an effective camouflage in the dappled shade of a forest. The sow has three pairs of abdominal teats and the piglets start following their mother from one to three days of age. The boar assists in rearing the piglets and weaning occurs at an age of 5.5 months or earlier. The lifespan is 13 to 15 years and predation is responsible for most deaths.

The bushpig hybridizes with domesticated pigs that have become feral and the hybrids show many bushpig characteristics but are larger than bushpigs.

References:

Grubb, P 1999. Types and type localities of ungulates named from southern Africa. Koedoe 42(2): 13 - 45.

Grubb, P 2005. Order Artiodactyla. In: D E Wilson & D M Reeder (Eds), Mammal species of the world, third edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, p 639.

Skinner, J D & C T Chimimba (Eds) 2005. The mammals of the southern African subregion, third edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp 547 – 551.

Article by Prof J du P Bothma

 

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