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Focus on the Warthog (Phacochoerus africanus)

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Citation: Furstenburg, D. 2009. Focus on the warthog (Phacochoerus africanus). S A Hunter 12035:36-38.
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Deon Furtenburg
Phacochoerus africanus (Gemlin 1788)
Afrikaans Vlakvark
German Warzenschwein
French Phacochère
Swahili Ngiri / Mbango
isiNdebele Indayikazane
isiZulu Indlovudawana
isiXhosa Ingulube
seSotho Kolobe / Mokhesi
seTswana Kolobê
Shona Njiri
Shangaan Ngulube
Venda Phangwa
Nama Dirib / Gairib / Mbinda
Photo: Deon Furstenburg, common warthog boar
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IUCN Conservation Status:
Lower Risk, least concern (LR/lc).
Known for a distinct lack of beauty and its pennant tail, the warthog is unmistakable. Its
name refers to the warts carried by the boar, while the Afrikaans name “vlakvark” refers
to the animal’s habit of roaming plains along watercourses and marshlands. The warthog
has an exceptionally high breeding rate that allows it to invade marginal and degraded
habitats. It also contributes to the destruction of veld condition and damages fences by
burrowing underneath to open escape pathways that are also used by game animals and
domestic small stock. These habits make this small animal one of the farmers’ worst
enemies. Nevertheless, warthog on the spit or a succulent roast leg is a mouth watering
Taxonomy Kingdom: ANIMALIA
Suborder: SUINA
Superfamily: Suiodea
Family: Suiidae
Subfamily: Phacochoerinae
Genus: Phacochoerus
Species: africanus
The warthog is a pig belonging to the Suidae family that consists of five genera. The
genus Sus has 10 species and sub-species of which the following are recognised in the
Rowland Ward trophy register
Sus scrofa scrofa the Eurasian wild boar from the United Kingdom, New Guinea,
Taiwan and Japan
o S. scrofa barbarus the Barbary wild boar from northern Africa
o S. scrofa cristatus the Indian wild boar from south-eastern Asia
S. verrucosus the Javian wild boar from Java and the Philippines
S. barbatus the bearded pig from Sumatra
S. salvanius the pygmy hog from northern India
S. scrofa the feral domestic pig from New Zealand, Australia and the USA
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Hylochoerus, the giant forest hog of western Africa
Babyrousa, the Babirusa from Indonesia
Potamochoerus, the bushpig P. porcas of southern and central East Africa
Phacochoerus, the warthog P. africanus, formerly known as P. aethiopicus from sub-
Saharan Africa
There are no sub-species for the bushpig but seven sub-species were originally
recognised for the warthog. This sub-speciation was eventually dropped to the three now
known as
Phacochoerus africanus africanus, the common warthog
Phacochoerus.africanus delamerei the desert warthog of central north-eastern
Phacochoerus aethiopicus the extinct former desert warthog of southern and
north-eastern Africa
The warthog was first described from a specimen found in New Guinea. Its distribution
ranged from Senegal and New Guinea in west Africa to Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia in
eastern Africa including parts of the Sahel, to the central east African countries of Kenya,
Uganda, Tanzania and Zaire (excluding the central rainforests of the Congo), to the
southern Cape seaboard of South Africa. The distribution also included Angola, Zambia,
Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia, excluding the sand-desert of
the Namib and the Kalahari.
In South Africa, warthog occurred mainly in the Lowveld, the savannah and bushveld
regions of the Limpopo, North-West and KwaZulu-Natal provinces. It was also found in
some parts of Namaqualand and the southern Karoo, along the banks of the Orange
River, the south-western Free State, the bushveld areas of the Eastern Cape, the Little
Karoo and several localized areas of the southern Cape coastal belt. Warthog never
occurred in the highveld of Mpumalanga and Gauteng or in the highland grasslands of
Lesotho, the eastern Free State and the East Cape Midlands.
The distribution of the desert warthog Phacochoerus aethiopicus originally extended to
the south-western Cape regions and the Free State but became extinct with the rinderpest
epidemic in 1896. It was recently replaced by introductions of the common warthog P.
africanus africanus. The present desert warthog P.a. delamerei only occurs in Somalia,
the northern parts of Kenya and the eastern regions of Ethiopia. Its western distribution
range overlaps that of the common warthog raising doubts as to the genetic purity of the
two sub-species in the area.
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Early travellers journals confirm the occurrence of warthog in southern Africa including
the following entries in the 1600s
De Grevenbroek referred to warthog tusks being traded at Cape Town city market as
“pig-horns”, ruling out any doubt that it was in fact warthog and not bushpig as the
bushpig tusks are rudimentary
In 1665, warthog venison was traded in the Cape Town city market for two “heyvy
stivers” a pound
John Schreyer, the first naturalist in the Cape, noted that warthog were seen on the
Cape Flats in 1679
In Namaqualand, warthog were exterminated by the Khoi well before the European
colonization of the Cape, as evinced by Khoi rock-art drawings in the region
In December 1803, Heinrich Lichtenstein gave a detailed description of warthog from
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Beaufort West in the upper Karoo
C.I. la Trobe recorded the presence of warthog in the Langkloof at Avontuur in 1818
In 1844, Gordon Cumming sighted roaming warthog in the grasslands south-west of
Early warthog sightings were noted in the Eastern Cape regions of Murraysburg,
Graaff-Reinet, Cradock, Tarkastad, Somerset East, Bedford, the Albany district, Lady
Grey, Matatiele and Port Edward
Shortridge recorded warthog tusks from the Hex River-Estate 29 km south of
Clanwilliam in 1936.
The warthog has an enormous head, flattened above and with the lower part expanded
forwards. Two pairs of tapered, warty growths composed of gristle without a supporting
bone structure, occur along the sides of the face. The largest pair of warts are found only
in boars and are up to 12 cm long, with a second pair, found in both sexes, growing only
3 cm long. Thus the boar has two pairs of warts and the sow only one.
Each cheek has a long flap of skin from the corner of the mouth, furnished with white
whiskers. The body is sparsely covered with hair, old animals being almost hairless. The
sow does not have large facial warts but usually has a small ridge of skin carrying the
contrasting cream-white whiskers. The skin often appears brown or grey due to frequent
wallowing. There is a long mane of sparse, stiff hair growing from the back of the neck
that continues halfway along the spine on the back. The tail tuft normally retains its hair.
The adult boar has a mean body mass of 80 kg and a shoulder height of 68 cm. The
adult sow is noticeably smaller, with a mean mass of 57 kg and a shoulder height of 60
The most characteristic feature of warthogs is the tail, which is held perpenducular when
running and alerted.
The extinct warthog P. aethiopicus and the extant desert warthog P. africanus delamerei
have a feature in common as they both lack functional incisor teeth. In contrast, the
common warthog has two in the upper jaw and 4-6 in the lower. Warthog found in the
Northern Cape have fully functional upper incisors, thus dispelling any hope that they are
living representatives of the extinct P. aethiopicus.
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The spoor is a split- or cloven-hoofed print similar to that of antelope, being 50 mm long
and 40 mm wide, but is not tapered towards the front. It gives the impression of two soya
beans lying parallel with the inner sides facing towards each other. Both the base and
the front end of the spoor are bluntly rounded. Direction of movement is difficult to
determine, as the base and front end of the prints are similar in shape. On close
investigation, the front end of the spoor print may be depressed slightly deeper into the
soil (0.5-1 mm) than the hind, indicating the direction of movement. Sometimes the front
end of the spoor is slightly narrower in diameter than the hind end.
Information table
Warthog information table
Characteristic Boar Sow
Adult body weight kg 60 – 114
(average 80)
45 – 75
(average 57)
Adult shoulder height cm 68 60
Sexual maturity age months 18 18
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Social maturity age (1st mating) months 30 18
Gestation period days 175
1st Piglets born at age months 24
Litter interval months 10 – 12
Rutting season May – Jun
Birth season Oct – Dec
Weaning age months 3
Gender ratio: entire population (natural) 1 1,5
Gender ratio: entire population (production) 1 1
Mating ratio: adults (natural) 1 1
Mating ratio: adults (production) 1 1
Piglet birth ratio 1 1
Maximum lifespan years 14 – 17 14 – 17
Home range ha 65 – 374 64 – 341
Territory range ha None None
Large stock grazing unit (adult) LSU 0,3 per animal
(85% of diet)
0,21 per animal
(85% of diet)
Browsing unit (adult) BU 0,54 per animal
(15% of diet)
0,49 per animal
(15% of diet)
Maximum stocking load 7 ha per animal (at 450 mm rain)
Minimum habitat size required ha 60
Annual population growth 65 120% (mean 75%)
Warthog trophies consist of the ivory tusks formed from the upper canine teeth. These
curve continuously down, turn out and then up to form a semi-circle, causing the lower
canines to wear against them. The upper tusks are of no use in defense, the points being
blunt and turned inwards. The lower canine teeth have a sharp cutting edge caused by
their wear against the base of the upper tusks. These are formidable weapons and can
cut an intruder or predator to pieces. Both the boar and the sow have similar tusks, but
those of the boars are generally larger. With aging the tusks become progressively
heavier and longer but are also more worn.
Warthog trophy records
Rowland Ward (XXVII edition 2006):
Minimum qualifying value = 13“ (33.02 cm) Measuring method 6
Inch cm Locality Year Source
1st 24" 60.96 ? 1912 Loder Collection
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2nd 24” 60.96 Potchefstroom, North West, RSA. 1996 C. Kruger
3rd 221/8" 56.20 Uganda 1909 A.B. Fisher
4th 22" 55.88 ? 1909 J.N. Coute
5th 203/4" 52.71 Swartruggens, North West, RSA. 1982 J. Erasmus
Safari Club International S.C.I.:
Minimum qualifying value = 30" (76.20) Measuring method 4
1st 497/8
126.68 1982 G. Perrin
Confederation of Hunters Associations of South Africa CHASA:
Minimum qualifying value = 131/2" (34.29 cm) Measuring method (J)
1st 19" 48.26 Zimbabwe 1978 M.C.J. Louwrens
Habitat requirement
Warthogs are generally associated with open, degraded grassland plains, flood plains,
marshland areas and, more particularly, the ring-zone surrounding waterholes. They are
also found in open savanna woodland and sparse shrubland, the new grass growth in
burnt veld being a particular attraction. Shortgrass habitats with grasses of <15 cm that
are associated with sweetveld habitat are preferred. A sourveld habitat is unsuitable for
Warthog are fond of mud baths and prefer to be close to waterholes. Despite enjoying
mudbaths they are not dependent upon surface water for drinking as they are able to
utilise the moisture from plant roots and bulbs.
Unlike the bushpig Potamochoerus porcas, the warthog is a sub-tropical animal and
avoids thick bush, riverine thickets, forests and arid desert environments. Sub-arid
environments are only suitable for the desert warthog and, even then, only marginally so.
Warthog die easily during prolonged droughts due to the decline in the nutrient quality of
dietary fodder.
Warthog are diurnal animals feeding exclusively during daylight hours and at night sleep
in the old burrows of the aardvark Orycteropus afer, and the porcupine Hystrix africanus.
They do not excavate their own burrows, but rather enlarge existing, abandoned burrows
of other animals to suit their needs. The sow carries grass into the den to provide
comfortable bedding. The burrow offers refuge against bad weather as well as protection
against predators.
When in danger, the family will dart to the den at speed that can reach up to 45 km/hr.
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Piglets dash down the hole head first and are followed by the sow. She enters backwards
with the face and tusks at the opening, facing the intruder. Except for lion, there is no
predator that dares to take on an adult warthog in its burrow as the outcome is likely to
be fatal for the intruder. When exiting the burrow, the warthog examines the surroundings
for signs of danger before leaving the safety of the immediate area.
Warthog can be very aggressive when other animals come too close and can be vicious
fighters as many dogs and predators have learned to their cost. There are records of
leopard and cheetah being killed by warthog, although, in turn, they occasionally fall prey
to leopard, hyaena and lion.
Warthog associate with other game at a distance, especially with birds that assist in the
detection of danger but in general, avoid direct contact with other animals. They have
poor vision and with their short legs move relatively slowly in comparison to antelope.
During the hot, midday hours warthog lie down in the shade of trees and shrubs. They
are extremely fond of mud baths, the mud serving as an insulation against heat as well
as protection against biting flies.
Latrines do not exist and defecation takes place anywhere. Social grooming among
family members occurs frequently and they also scratch their bodies against tree trunks
and rocks. It is common sight to see a warthog sitting with its backside flat on a stone or
hard ground, scratching backwards and forwards. Sounds often heard include snorts and
grunts or a chirpy squeak. During the mating season boars attract sows by snapping their
jaws and teeth.
Feeding & Nutrition
Warthogs are omnivorous, feeding on vegetation, insects, maggots, rodents, bird
nestlings, eggs and snakes. They also scavenge carcasses and bones. The greatest
portion of their diet consists of grass and forb roots rather than the vegetative material
found above-ground.
The diet changes from grass material in the wet summer to predominantly roots in the dry
winter season. Warthog kneel and dig out roots to a depth of 15 cm with their tusks and
muscular snouts. This destructive behaviour results in the warthog being a high-impact
species. Other food types include water sedges, dwarf shrubs, fruits, berries, soil and
dung from other herbivorous animals. Wetland grasses are highly favoured.
They are highly selective feeders of both plant species and parts and require a diversity
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of grasses and forbs of >40 species.
Preferred grasses include: Urochloa mosambicensis, Panicum maximum, P. coloratum,
Eragrostis curvula, Chloris virata, Digitaria argyrograpta, Sporobulus nitens and Cynodon
Territory & Home range
Neither male or female ehibit territorial behaviour outside the den, although it may be
defended against other members of the species. Families and boars both have seperate
fixed home ranges varying from 60 to 370 ha, these ranges expanding by 20 to 30%
during drought periods. Warthog are not aggressive towards members of other families
and the same home range may be shared by several families from different dens.
Warthog are not migratory and the majority of adults will stay in the same home range for
life. Sub-adults will move out during population density stress and seek a new home
range and den. However, dens can be exchanged between adult breeding sows sharing
home range.
Warthog cannot be categorised as socially gregarious animals, as individuals do not
tolerate body contact between members of different families. The home range is marked
by scent that is wiped off the sides of the mouth and pre-orbital glands onto protruding
objects and plant material.
Social structure
Pairs of warthog are solitary but temporary aggregations occur when 4-5 families meet to
feed at the same site. Neighbouring families with overlapping home ranges are not
aggressive but at dusk each family returns to its own den.
Families consist of an adult boar, an adult sow and her offspring of the current season
and sometimes those from the previous season. Piglets may stay with the family until an
age of 27 months, after which they move out and look for dens in a home range where
they can start their own families. Adult boars leave the family groups after the mating
season and become solitary, occupying their own den but still sharing the same home
Old post-mature adults of both sexes become solitary and occupy dens on the perimeter
of the family home range. They are vulnerable to predation due to their solitary behaviour.
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An adult, socially mature boar does not stay with a family during the entire year as he
becomes solitary in the period between mating seasons. As the mating season
approaches, the boar will look for an adult sow and her family and moves into her den.
He stays with her for approximately 3-5 months, depending on the climate and veld
The mating season differs slightly between regions; in South Africa it is generally during
May and June. After a gestation period of 160-175 days, the young are born in an
underground den between October and December. Between 9 and 17% of the fetuses
die before birth. The number of piglets per sow varies from 1-8 with a mean of 3.3. Birth
mass varies from 480-850 g depending on the size of the farrow. The sow often adopts
piglets from another sow and can have three of her own and three adopted in a litter of
six. This behaviour is unique. Young piglets fall prey to jackal, pythons and raptors.
Piglets start grazing after a week and are weaned after nine weeks. Their life expectancy
is 14-17 years.
Warthog have the greatest population growth potential of all African game animals as
they have multiple furrows of 1-8 piglets. The annual population growth varies between
60 and 120%, with a long-term growth of 75%. The annual growth rate depends on the
rainfall of the previous season, the veld condition, predation pressure and population
Warthog are extremely susceptible to dietary stress which can cause high mortalities and
sudden population crashes, especially during droughts. As the warthog has a high
reproduction growth potential, any population crash is quickly restored.
Because of the potential, extreme fluctuations in warthog numbers, it is advisable not to
exceed a stocking density of 15 ha per warthog family of a sow and her piglets, or 7 ha
per solitary individual in optimal habitats with an annual rainfall of 450 mm. If the rainfall
is lower, the density should be reduced by adding 3 ha/animal for every decrease of 50
mm which gives10 ha/warthog at 400 mm, 13 ha/warthog at 350 mm etc. With a higher
rainfall, density can be increased by deducting 0.7 ha/animal for every 100 mm rain giving
6.3 ha/warthog at 550 mm, 5.6 ha/warthog at 650 mm etc.
The large stock unit equivalent for an adult warthog is 0.21-0.3 LSU/animal depending on
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the size of the animal, and a browser unit equivalent of 0.49-0.54 BU/animal.
Proportionally, 85% of warthog’s dietary intake is allocated to its LSU equivalent and 15%
to its BU equivalent. An absolute minimum of 60 ha of suitable habitat is needed to fullfill
the annual feeding and spatial needs of a single warthog breeding family.
Warthog are highly susceptible to swine-fever and mange and cannot tolerate malnutrition
during droughts. It is the first game species to suffer high mortalities during these periods.
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Trend in mean annual Warthog prices
(Data from: Vleissentraal; T. Eloff, Univ . Potchefstroom; Cloete & Taljaard, Univ . Free State)
Warthog (SA Rand)
Cumming, DHM, 1970. A contribution to the biology of warthog, Gmelin in the Sengwa region of Rhodesia.
Ph.D. Dissertation, Rhodes University.
Cumming, DHM, 1975. A field study of the ecology and behaviour of warthog. Mus. Mem. Natl Mus. Monum.
Rhod. 7:1-179.
Du Plessis, SF, 1969. The past and present geographical distribution of the Perrisodactyla and Artiodactyla
in Southern Africa. M.Sc. Thesis, University of Pretoria.
Furstenburg, D 2008. Vlakvark. Wild & Jag 14(12):6-11.
IUCN, 2006. IUCN Red list of Threatened Species, Gland, Switzerland:
Kingdon, J, 1997. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
Kingdon, J, 1979. East African Mammals, Vol. IIIB, Large Mammals: An atlas of evolution in Africa.
Academic Press, London.
Mason, DR. 1982. Studies on the biology and ecology of the warthog in Zululand. D.Sc. Thesis University
of Pretoria.
Nowak, RM, 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World 5th edn. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.
Sommers, MJ & Penzhorn, BJ. 1992. Reproduction in a reintroduced warthog population in the eastern
Cape Province. S. Afr. J. Wildl. Res. 22:57-60.
Sommers, MJ, Penzhorn, BJ, & Rasa, OAE. 1994. Home range size, range use and dispersal of warthogs
in the eastern Cape. J. Afr. Zool. 108:361-373.
Sommers, M, 1996. Die vlakvark. S.A. Wild & Jag 2(1).
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Skead, CJ, 1987. Historical Mammal incidence in the Cape, Vol 1 & 2, Government Printer, Cape Town.
Skinner, JD & Chimba, CT, 2005. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion, 3rd edn. Cambridge
University Press.
Ward, R, 2006. Rowland Ward’s Records of Big Game, 27tth edn. Rowland Ward Publications.
Wilson, D E & Reeder, DM, 1993. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonimic and Geographic Reference.
2nd edn., Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.
Photos: Deon Furstenburg, common warthog
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
Somers, M.J., Penzhorn, B.L. & Rasa, O.A.E. 1994. Home range size, range use and dispersal of warthogs in the eastern Cape, South Africa. Journal of African Zoology 108(4): 361-373.
This field guide begins with a checklist. The main part of the volume consists of entries for each species. Each entry provides information on common names, measurements, recognition, geographical distribution (plus map), habitat, diet, behaviour, adaptations and conservation status. Illustrations are also included. Brief notes are also provided on the African environment (physical, climate and vegetation) and palaeoecology (habitats and species). Finally a short section examines African wildlife conservation.
A contribution to the biology of warthog, Gmelin in the Sengwa region of Rhodesia
  • Dhm Cumming
Cumming, DHM, 1970. A contribution to the biology of warthog, Gmelin in the Sengwa region of Rhodesia. Ph.D. Dissertation, Rhodes University.
  • D Furstenburg
Furstenburg, D 2008. Vlakvark. Wild & Jag 14(12):6-11.
IUCN Red list of Threatened Species
  • Iucn
IUCN, 2006. IUCN Red list of Threatened Species, Gland, Switzerland: