Warthogs Not Just Any Pig

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Warthogs Not Just Any Pig
By Archie Landals

Our magical first trip to Africa was in September 2011. My wife Carole and I were on a two-week photo safari of Namibia. The attractions were spectacular, from the iconic red sand dunes in Namib Naukluft Park to the lesser-known fascinating petroglyphs at Twyfelfontein, designated as Namibia’s first World Heritage Site in 2007. The more than 2500 rock carvings were made by the ancestors of the San (Bushmen) and date back more than 2000 years.

Large mugs of hot coffee to combat the chilly morning were served as we embarked on a boat tour in Walvis Bay that allowed us to get up close and personal with seals and pelicans that came onboard for handouts. The plankton-rich waters of Walvis Bay enables oysters to be harvested after eight months compared with three years in other parts of the world. We were treated to oysters, both raw and cooked, and empty coffee mugs were regularly refilled, and fine South African sherry was on offer.

Etosha National Park was our first great wildlife viewing opportunity. I only needed to look out of the bus window at the constantly changing scenery to be enthralled – everything was new and exciting.  We photographed many species of plains game and four of the Big Five – Cape buffalo are not in the park. The first few days I spotted gemsbok, ostrich and a distant herd of mountain zebra. Springbok were everywhere. And I saw my first warthogs.  My initial experience with warthog meat was on a braai at Taleni Etosha Village. It was delicious!

Back in Canada we traded emails with PH and guide Louw van Zyl, owner of Track a Trails Safaris, and settled a 12-day package that would give us 10 days of hunting and two travel days.  Four trophies were included in the package: kudu, oryx, impala and warthog. I was determined to shoot a kudu and thought I would be content with one other trophy. I rather liked the idea of a springbok as a second smaller trophy.

Initially, I had no interest in shooting a warthog.  “Why do you want to shoot a warthog?” friends asked. I really had no answer, but Carole kept telling me they were so ugly they were beautiful. “You need to shoot one,” she convinced me.

In 2012, our hunting destination was Aandster Farm, a six-hour drive from Windhoek, about an hour east of Grootfontein in north-eastern Namibia, in the Kalahari Bushveld. The ancient, low relief dunes of the Bushveld are covered with thick scrub, most of which has sharp thorns. The only open areas are a few old fields that have reverted to what now looks like grassland savanna. These fields are renewed by periodic burning, giving habitat favored by springbok and impala.

It was the dry season, and Stephan Jacobs, the owner of Aandster, told us that the only likelihood of finding a warthog was at a waterhole. He was right. Over the next few days as we tracked kudu, we saw glimpses of warthogs as they hightailed it through the thick scrub and grass. Although I tried to convince myself that I saw tusks, I am sure there was not a good boar among them. These were not like the rather docile warthogs we had seen in Etosha where they lived a life of leisure, habituated to the traffic along the main roads in a protected area.

There were half a dozen man-made waterholes at Aandster, several of them with tree stands. We climbed one in the middle of the day, but saw little.

On Day 7, we drove to a neighboring farm. It was seldom hunted and we hoped to find good warthog boars. A large tank in a remote part of the farm stored water for filling cattle troughs. It leaked, causing mud holes that attracted the wildlife. We built a ground blind of Kalahari Apple-leaf and settled in and spent a magical afternoon watching wildlife and listening to the birds. Giraffe, jackal and warthog all came to drink. A kudu bull effortlessly jumped the fence around the water trough. There were flocks of guinea fowl, doves, grouse and songbirds. A herd of about 20 Nguni cattle came to drink. An indigenous African breed, they are truly beautiful animals, with hides of many colors and patterns. Memories came flooding back a year later when I watched the highlights of the funeral of Nelson Mandela. His casket was draped with the hide of a magnificent Nguni bull.

We saw a lot of warthogs, mostly sows and piglets, and a few boars that I decided to pass in the hopes of a better one, though towards dusk I was starting to regret that I had not shot one of them. Then just before dark, Louw confirmed a decent boar and suggested that I take it. I could not get a clear view from where I sat and decided to stand and use the shooting sticks. After sitting for seven hours my legs would not work and I almost fell on my head. Controlling my laughter and getting my legs under me, I steadied the borrowed .300 Winchester Magnum on the shooting sticks and made the shot. Photos done, we loaded the pig and went back for supper and Amarula around the fire.

The following day we built a ground blind at one of the waterholes at Aandster hoping to get a warthog for my brother. Shortly before five a herd of blesbok, including one good ram, came for a drink. Louw said I could take it if I wished, and quickly got me on the sticks. Just before the ram disappeared behind the brush, I added him to my growing list of trophies, now six. I am not sure what happened to settling for a kudu and one small trophy!

Oscar, our driver, dropped us off at the tree stand on his way to the skinning shed with the blesbok. Warthogs were soon sneaking out of the bush toward the waterhole, and just before dark a good boar came for a drink, but was hidden behind the bow blind that obscured part of the water hole. Eventually it headed back towards the trees, and my brother was able to take it. Those big boars were extremely wary, only arriving to feed or drink after dark.

My brother decided that he wanted a blesbok as well, and the next morning he took a good ram.  We decided to make the drive back to Windhoek over two days to avoid a 4 a.m. start to get there in time for our flight. Waterberg Guest Farm, about half way to Windhoek was a great place to stop.  On an afternoon game drive, we watched herds of oryx and hartebeest with their calves. The oryx calves already had well-developed horns. Spotting and photographing the diminutive Damara dik-dik was a bonus. A magical sundowner watching the flamingoes as the sun set blood-red behind the mountains was a perfect end to an exciting first hunt in Africa.

A visit to the local taxidermist was not necessary after our hunt. We had met Casper Oosthuizen at his studio the year before while on our photo safari. One of his staff picked up our trophies from Aandster. The warthog now hangs on the wall with our other trophies. The open mouth showing the needle-sharp lower tusks gives the warthog a rather rakish grin.  He is the first animal noticed and talked about by our non-hunting friends. Those that hunt agree that he is a fine trophy worth every hunter’s attention. The kids, of course, know him affectionately as Pumba, the Disney character from The Lion King.