Giant Forest Hog

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The giant forest hog is the largest of the eight species of wild pig. It inhabits the tropical forests and savanna of central Africa, where people still hunt it as a pest. In much of its range the giant forest hog is active mainly at night, foraging for food in an extended family group. But in protected areas like national parks, it often roams during the daylight hours. This creature of habit follows tunnellike paths that it has already forged through dense vegetation to its feeding sites. Its food includes grass, leaves, berries, and carrion.

Habits: The giant forest hog inhabits both tropical forests and savanna from sea level to an altitude of over 12,000 feet. In the hotter parts of its range and in areas where it is hunted by people, it usually sleeps by day and forages after dark. In protected areas it is often active by day. The giant forest hog lives in a family group of about 10 individuals. The group occupies an area of about eight square miles, which the hogs mark with secretions from the scent glands around their eyes and lips. The home ranges of several groups may overlap.

Each day the hog takes the same paths to its favorite feeding and drinking areas. It also regularly visits mud wallows. Bathing in the moist mud keeps the hog cool and rids its skin of ticks and other parasites. After bathing, the hog rubs itself against a tree or termite mound to scrape the mud from its skin. The group of hogs returns to its communal sleeping nest each day. The roof and walls are usually woven from dense undergrowth into a snug, dry shelter. In some areas the hogs may simply nest under an uprooted tree’s roots. The oxpecker helps the giant forest hog by feeding on parasitic ticks in its skin. Discovered in 1904, the giant forest hog is one of the last large mammals to become known to naturalists. It is found in forests in central Africa.

Food and Feeding: The giant forest hog forages for food in a family group. As an omnivore, it eats both plants and animals. In its tropical homeland the hog feeds mostly on the lush vegetation. In open savanna and at the forest edge it grazes on grasses and tender shoots. It also tears up bamboo, crushing the stems and leaves with its powerful cheek teeth. Within the forest, the hog feeds mainly on leaves, berries, and fruit, and it may gnaw on exposed roots. Unlike other pig species, it seldom digs with its snout. At times the giant forest hog eats insects and their larvae, the eggs of ground nesting birds, and carrion (dead flesh). It seeks out salt licks, such as termite mounds, to obtain needed minerals. It may also feed on and damage crops. The forest hog keeps returning to the same areas to feed and drink.

Breeding: A dominant male usually leads each family group. Males establish their position by ritual fighting, charging each other and cracking heads ferociously. Defeated males lead a solitary life away from the group. Mating occurs throughout the year. The male approaches a receptive sow (female) in his group. If she accepts his advances, the pair mates noisily. Two to six young are born 18 weeks later in a nest that the sow builds at a distance from her group. When the young are about a week old, the sow leads them back to the group, where they are fed by any sows that can produce milk. The young hogs are weaned at about 10 weeks and become sexually mature at 18 months.

All of the adults protect the young, warning them of danger and defending them from predators. Despite this care, only one or two of each litter survives. Some are crushed by their mother soon after birth, while others may be picked off by hyenas or large cats. Young hogs nurse from their mother or from other milk bearing females in the group.

Key Facts:
Length: Head and body, 5-6 ft. Tail, about 1 ft.
Height: 2 ½ -3 ½ ft.
Weight: 350-600 lb. Male is heavier than female

Sexual maturity: 18 months
Breeding season: All year, but sexual activity increases slightly in October and November
Gestation: 18 weeks
No. of Young: 2-6

Habits: Highly social; may be active during the day or night
Diet: Grass, leaves, berries, fruit, roots, and carrion
Lifespan: Probably 15-20 years

Related Species: There are 8 species of pig in 5 genera, including the bushpig, Potamochoerus porcus, and the wild boar, Sus scrofa.
Distribution: Found in isolated populations throughout forested areas of central Africa. The largest numbers occur in Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, and Zaire.
Conservation: The giant forest hog is not endangered, but it is threatened in some areas by hunting. Farmers attack it because it may damage crops and can infect domestic pigs with African swine fever.

Features of the Giant Forest Hog:
Male: Heavily built, much larger than female
Female: Smaller than male. Lacks huge face warts
Young: 2 to 6 in a litter. Born with straw colored coat that changes to brown, then black
Warts: Male has huge, swollen cheek projections that protect eyes in dense undergrowth. Equipped with scent glands (especially in older males) to mark the hog’s home range.
Tusks: Upward pointed canine teeth may grow to 14 inches.
Coat: Black guard hairs. Often covered in mud from wallowing.
Tail: Long and tasseled. May be used to swat insects. Never carried upright.
Hooves: 4 toes on each foot.

Did You Know:
The large warts below and behind the giant forest hog’s eyes are believed to shield it when it charges through thick undergrowth.
The hierarchy of hog society can be seen when family groups enter mud wallows and nest sites. The senior male always leads, and the junior female brings up the rear.
Some African tribes make war shields from the skin of the giant forest hog.
The male giant forest hog has reinforced frontal bones to protect it during the ritual head clashes for dominance.