A family of bushpigs were intriguing nocturnal visitors to our camp on our recent trip to KwaZulu-Natal’s Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park. At first two females and a baby snuffled around amiably. It was only when the big male arrived that we realised the real reason for their visit.
When the bushpigs first arrived and were nosing around, we watched them from our elevated vantage point on the deck outside the tents. They seemed untroubled by our presence, ignored our torchlight and cameras, and didn’t bat an eyelid when we spoke. When we knelt down on the deck and experimentally made snuffly noises they simply sniffed and snuffled back, before going on their way.
The first visitors were two female bushpigs with a youngster still sporting stripes. They snuffled around near the deck of the tent, perhaps hoping to find crumbs that might have been swept off the deck. They did not have much success and they didn’t stay long.
Typically, a boar leads and protects his family group, comprising 1 to 4 sows and their offspring. The youngsters remain until they are about a year old, when the sub-adult males are driven out of the group by the father. Such sub-adults may move on to form bachelor groups. Sadly, in the family that visited us only one baby appeared to have survived.
Although bushpigs largely eat roots and bulbs, as well as grass, seeds and fruit, they are omnivores and they also eat carrion, excrement, insects and larvae, birds eggs and reptiles. They may even eat small birds and small mammals.
Not long after the females and the baby that visited our camp moved out of sight into the darkness, the large male appeared, sniffing around on the grass below our tent.
To provide some context, in our campsite we stayed in two permanent tents (there were three of us) joined by wooden decking with a kitchen at the centre. There are steps leading up to the enclosed kitchen that cannot be entered by monkeys or bushbabies if the mesh door is kept shut. The elevated deck and the gate at the top of the steps mean that hyenas and porcupines, possible nocturnal camp visitors, are also kept out. The bin at the bottom of the steps is in a stand so it cannot be knocked over, and it has a heavy metal lid that can also be chained in place.
The rubbish bin turned out to be the main reason for the bushpigs’ visit. The large bushpig homed in on it, circling it to see if he could dislodge it or open it.
On our first night we had not thought to secure the chain to the lid of the bin. When the bush-pig arrived, it circled the bin a few times and then, to our astonishment, with his snout he suddenly butted the underneath of the bin so hard that the bin shot up vertically, lifting the heavy metal lid, and ejected from the stand. Fortunately, as we had just arrived only that afternoon, the bin had very little in it and the bushpig lost interest and left the bin lying on its side on the ground.
We got wise and secured the chain to the lid of the bin so the bin and the lid could not be lifted. By our second night at the camp, though the contents of the bin included appetising peelings of fruits, by the time we went to bed the bushpigs had not appeared. However, we were later awakened by loud clanking sounds at the bin as the visiting bushpig attempted to dislodge the chain, banging the lid and shaking the bin in its stand.
The bushpig was very persistent, using his tusks and teeth to try to loosen the chain. In his frustration he started tearing off bits of plastic from the binbag tucked over the top of the bin.
All the commotion attracted his family who arrived and stood around expectantly, but all he could offer was the torn bits of plastic binbag that lay on the ground around the bin. They all completely ignored us, even when we loudly said no when thing got especially hectic.
The poor father pig seemed very stressed at letting down his family who moved in closer and made it plain that their expectations were not being met. As he got more desperate the boar resorted to tearing more plastic and battering the bin loudly. We thought he might get hurt, and so we resorted to trickling some water onto his back when he started obsessively circling and bashing the bin again and again. The water did seem to put him off a bit and he slowed down, and it started to dawn on them that they weren’t going to have any luck at this bin that night.
So, finally giving up, off they went. It wasn’t that long before we heard loud clanking sounds from the neighbour’s camp, which was some distance from ours. We wondered if the bushpigs would have better luck there, and felt sad that the pigs were at risk of injury or ingesting harmful objects and unhealthy food around the camp rubbish bins.
Wherever there are resorts, camps, picnic sites and other facilities for tourists where food is prepared and eaten, there is always an accumulation of waste and rubbish that attracts animals. In addition there is the problem of people deliberately feeding animals who then learn that grabbing food from people can by an easy way of finding fast food.
Primates, namely monkeys, baboons and bushbabies, are the most commonly associated with this kind of behaviour, but animals in other species may also become habituated, and problems arise. Such animals can become a nuisance and some animals may even become a danger as they lose their natural instinct to stay away from people, and become prepared to compete with people for access to food.
Even sweet little birds, when habituated to humans and their foods, can become a nuisance. This little Orange River White-eye surprised us by inviting itself to share our lunch when we camped at De Hoop in the Richtersveld. Fortunately, there was only one, but there is a fine line between cuteness that some humans routinely encourage and it morphing into behaviour that humans suddenly find to be a nuisance.
Habituated animals that make their presence felt at camps we have stayed at have included the primates already mentioned, and also hyenas, ground squirrels, tree squirrels, small rodents, and birds. And after our recent experience we can now add bushpigs to the list.
At some wildlife parks lions have become bold enough go inside to lie in the shade inside the coolness of public toilet facilities for a midday siesta, and in arid regions lions and elephants and other animals are attracted to water taps both outside and inside bathrooms. At Savuti camp in Botswana, the bathroom and toilets are now housed inside a bunker-like structure to prevent the elephants from destroying the plumbing.
Even with the food packed away in our vehicle, habituated ground squirrels at Nossob campsite in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park still took it upon themselves to investigate our camp in the expectation that they may come across something to eat.
At a campsite in Mabuasehube Reserve in Botswana, these Yellow-billed Hornbills thought that their reflections in the mirrors on our vehicle were rivals to be seen off. Even when we covered the mirrors, they were still distracted by their reflections in the windows.
Obviously some degree of habituation between wild animals and visiting tourists is unavoidable, and can result in animals being less stressed by humans and vehicles in their midst. But contact should be minimised and where food is concerned, we should be responsible and never feed animals deliberately, and take care not to leave food or food waste accessible. (For example, on another trip, in the chalet we were staying in we left a window open by mistake when we went out – not something we will do again!)
As we have found out first-hand, it can be challenging to be sufficiently vigilant especially where animals have learnt how best to outwit us. At the same camp where the bush-pigs visited, when we packed the car as we prepared to leave, even though we were trying to be careful, a monkey with perfect timing shot down out of a tree and got into the car to sit down beside one of us to grab a fruit that was visible. Not something we expected, but hopefully we will know better next time!
Posted by Carol