One day back in November, we found ourselves cradling a tiny warthog piglet and trying to feed it milk. At Askari we are not well practised in hand rearing animals; it’s not something we aim to do and in fact just the opposite, our goal is for nature and wilderness to exist with minimal human interference. This particular piglet however was so determined to survive that we literally couldn’t ignore him if we tried! Suddenly faced with a task we knew nothing about, we began to search the internet….the big world wide web which would surely have all the answers for how to hand rear baby warthogs. There really wasn’t much out there, just tiny snippets of info here and there and much of it conflicting. It was very much trial and error but here I will detail the success of ‘Kevin’ the baby warthog who we successfully hand reared here at Askari. For some it will just be a great story about a piglet of amazing character. For others, and the main purpose of me writing this, we hope it will help those who find themselves in the same situation as we did a few months ago. We hope it may give you the information you need (that we were so lacking) when you next attempt to hand rear a baby warthog!
Finally before we begin our story, some words of wisdom for living with a baby warthog. At times is can be frustrating, at others tiring, obviously you will worry and wonder what you’ve got yourself into! Be warned it’s a big undertaking and be sure you are willing to go ahead. Your house will never quite be the same again; but prepare yourself for a wonderful adventure and the rare treat that is sharing the joys and woes of life as a baby warthog. As they grow, so does their personality. They establish the most amazing character but be warned….also sharp teeth and tusks too! They will entertain you to the ends of the earth and you’ll never laugh so hard but one day they grow bigger and can even become problematic. Males especially can become aggressive and protective of you to the extent they may attack strangers with their tusks. They want to be one of the family and be with you all the time. If you leave them on their own they will scream and squeal, sounds you’ve never heard before. You may need to prepare yourself that this warthog will be a friend for life, digging up your garden and sleeping on your sofa! If all of this sounds ok then we wish you the best of luck with your warthog and may you enjoy many hours of warthog break dancing!
So firstly, how Kevin came to be with us! One day our fence patroller ‘Issac’ had stopped on our main access road. He was checking something on his bike when a piglet came running out the bushes and sat under his bike. Unsure of what to do Issac drove away but all that happened was the piglet followed. He drove to Askari (a kilometre away) to try and find us and ask what to do. Unfortunately we were in town that day so he continued his fence checks around the breeding camp perimeter. Another 1.5 km later and still with the warthog in tow, Issac drove to the reserve headquarters. This was another 2 km still and from there Issac called the reserve manager. Efforts to put him back in the bush failed as he simply stayed less than a metre away from whichever legs were trying to drop him off. It was at this stage we decided he was so committed to surviving that he deserved a second chance and the manager brought him to Askari on our return from town.
EQUIPMENT – So what equipment do you need to rear a baby warthog? The first thing is a bottle and teat. We just bought a standard babies bottle from the supermarket. The teat had a very small hole but this is fine at first otherwise the milk flows out as fast as it goes in! Next is some sterilising fluid as all bottles and teats must be sterilised at first. For this we used ‘Milton’ – also available at the supermarket. Next you’ll need some milk and for this we used regular soya milk. Although we have heard of people rearing piglets on cows milk, we were advised strictly NO DAIRY. Apparently Lactogen 1 human supplement also works but is much more expensive. You also don’t need the most expensive soya milk, spar’s home brand was the cheapest we found and worked wonders. Lastly you need to pick up some PROTEXIN from the local vet. This comes in powder form and must be added to the milk as soon as possible upon finding the piglet. The most common problem hand rearing piglets is that they pick up dihorrea; once they suffer from this it dehydrates them and it’s very hard to bring them back, try and avoid it at ALL costs. The Protexin dosage is on the packet but we added 2 ml of the powder to his milk (split between a morning and afternoon feed) every day for the first 3-4 weeks. This not only helps their gut flora establish but can also help with dihorrea if they do get it. Finally you will need some sort of bed (any old cushion will do) and a blanket or towel or two.
FEEDING – The first job is to weigh your piglet. This will help you work out the feeding quantities as well as keep a check on its progress. Piglets should be fed between 10 and 20% of their body weight per day. 20% is an absolute maximum. Less is better than more at the start to avoid dihorrea as they adapt to the different milk. For around the first week ‘Kevin’ spent the majority of the day sleeping, only really waking up to feed. Feeds should be every 2-4 hours spread throughout daylight hours; they do not need feeding at night. So starting at 1.3 kg (we estimated already 4 weeks old), Kevin had 160 ml of milk a day, gradually increasing as his weight did.
You should see a gain in weight quite quickly. After about 10 days of having Kevin, his weight had reached a plateau and he stayed on 1.6kg. We realised (after probably a few too many days) that this wasn’t normal and suspected he was suffering from worms. This also coincided with continual squealing and extreme wining, no matter how recently he had drunk his milk. While warthog piglets will suffer from worms in the wild they have the strength and nutrition to deal with them. When without their mothers’ milk and in a stressful, unusual situation it gets on top of them and so they may need a helping hand to rid them. We happened to have some ‘Panacur’ de-wormer lying around so we put Kevin on this 5 day course. We saw instant results and his tummy started to plump out and the continual pestering for food stopped.
Once over this initial problem, he was gaining around 100g a day. Within 2 weeks he was taking his milk from a bowl on the floor (when not stepping in and knocking it over!). To encourage them to do this you can gently push their snout into the milk so they work out it’s there. I’m afraid to say that throughout rearing Kevin I’ve come to realise he’s not the most intelligent animal on the planet! Porridge can also be introduced to the diet at quite an early stage. Apparently pro-nutro works well but again is expensive and the cheaper Jungle breakfast energy cereal works just as well. This can be put in a bowl and they will take it themselves but beware it’s a messy business!
At this stage, Kevin was starting to nibble on grass as well. Each time he was taken out for the toilet he nipped a bit more off. If your piglet is very young and still not sure about the great outdoors, a square of lawn can be cut and put in a box. This worked well for me when I was working on the computer. Kevin would want to be continually at my feet but would also get bored so a box of turf meant he could not only learn how to graze but also feed himself! Rooting in the soil and mud is also important for your piglet so as they gradually start to do that it’s good news. It helps them gain extra minerals and nutrients that are present in the soil.
SLEEPING – Remember in the wild a piglet would have its mum and most likely a few siblings. They would huddle together in an underground burrow to sleep at night. And so when it comes to sleeping, it’s very important that your piglet needs to be warm. If at all possible, a companion is the ideal answer. If you happen to have a puppy or a tolerant dog and the two of them pair up then this is great. We have a Rhodesian ridgeback who not only didn’t like Kevin but was also scared of him! So no solution there, the piglet slept alone but inside the house for the first month. He had a bed and plenty of blankets, apparently a cuddly toy can work for them too and even better if it smells of you. Often when you try to put them to bed they will scream and squeal and it can last for more than an hour. Although it seems harsh they will settle eventually and then sleep the whole night through. If cold you must also provide hot water bottles as catching a chill is another thing to easily kill a young piglet. As soon as we thought he was old enough Kevin started sleeping outside. We have a small enclosure in which we placed an old dog kennel. With his cushion inside he even takes himself to bed now without so much as a squeal and he has weathered some huge thunder and lightening storms in there without even waking up.
A few weeks later still and we started giving him bread. Again this can be put in a bowl and covered with milk to soften it. By now he was also eating dry dog biscuits and loved rice krispies! Pap can also be fed. The more he takes grass, the better and you’ll see that the piglet should naturally know what to eat and what not to, you don’t have to do much teaching in this respect. Kevin seemed to be very keen on hunting insects (especially winged aliates) as they gathered around the light early evening.
WALLOWING – After a couple of months, we built Kevin a mud wallow. This just involved digging a small hole in the grass and filling it with water. This was a massive hit but beware again, it’s messy! Once covered in mud and slime Kevin likes to run in the house and rub it all over the furniture! Placing a few rocks or pieces of wood next to the wallow may provide an alternative location for this!
PLAYING – Don’t be surprised one day if your piglet begins to ‘break dance’. One day Kevin just woke up and seemed to have discovered ‘play’! Spinning in circles and running around like a mentalist will become common practice and is all part of the fun. They love a good tummy rub and if you hit the right spot they usually collapse on the floor to lap it up. I’m not sure what it is, but Kevin also loves to push things around the floor. He literally spends an hour at a time pushing an old bed sheet around the floor with his snout while down on his knees. This provides a good tool with which he can entertain himself and give you some peace for a while. If he’s not snouting the sheet then he’s snouting your leg so the sheet was a good discovery!
If you do live in the bush then walking with the piglet is great practice. Kevin regularly joins us out and about and enjoys rooting through the soil and roots to feed.
For now that is all I can give you. We have had Kevin for just over 2 months and he now weighs more than 5 kg. We plan to return him to the wild in another few months when he is weaned and big enough. Many more Kevin photos are posted on http://www.facebook.com/Askari.Wilderness.Conservation.Programme and videos can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/user/AskariWCP
To read the follow-up post, written almost 2 years on, click here http://www.askarivolunteers.com/recent-events-flash-news/kevin-the-baby-warthog-2-years-on/