When a little warthog is discovered along a river, and with no mother in sight, Samantha Du Toit and her kids quickly take her in, but the joy this piglet brings might just be short lived.
It is very hard to reason with a three-day old warthog. Despite her tiny size, Squeak was a fierce and feisty piglet who definitely knew her own mind from the minute she arrived in our lives.
One hot afternoon in January, the children and I were seeking out shade in their play/classroom tent when Kibai (our Maasai daytime watchman) came rushing up to us holding the tiny hog. She was squealing most indignantly as he hurriedly handed her over to me. I noticed she still had her umbilical cord, making her only a few days old at the most.
Kibai had been walking along the banks of the river just upstream from camp and had found the little warthog on the side of the river amongst a troop of baboons. When no mother appeared after some time, he picked her up and brought her to us. The kids were excited, but we decided she needed to be given back to her mother as soon as possible.
Without a moment’s thought we carried her back to where she had been found, with her objecting, gnashing her teeth and biting me at every opportunity. We placed her on the ground, where she collapsed into a heap, still squealing. We stepped back and hoped her mother would come. It was only then I realised that perhaps I should have thought this through as I was not sure what an angry mother warthog might do in such a situation. Placing the children behind a tree, we waited. No mother came. My heart was torn.
What now? I have always believed that ‘Mother Nature knows best’, and have refrained from interfering with wild animals at all costs. Surely there must be some reason why this little creature is out here, away from the safety of a burrow? But the longer we stood there, the more chance it seemed that she might die alone there, as we watched. I looked at the children, looking to me to decide, and knew we could not walk away. We picked her up and took her back to camp.
And so, the second ‘what now’ of the day hit me. How does one raise a new-born warthog? Many hours of internet searching, calling patient veterinary friends and family followed. The children did their best, making her a small ‘burrow’ in a wine cooler-bag, trying to decide how to keep her warm and helping with the feeding from a small syringe we had in the medical kit.
It turned out that the general consensus was that goat’s milk was the best option, and Kibai kindly offered to provide an unlimited supply from his home every day. She was soon named ‘Squeak’ by the children, who worked around the clock to care for her. Well, the daytime clock at least. I took on the night time routine of three hourly feeds.
It was a steep learning curve, not least learning to appreciate that wild animals are completely different from their domestic cousins. It should have seemed obvious perhaps, but Squeak was a very wild animal, accepting comfort and food only with her tiny feet firmly on the ground. We learned that, even in the days that followed where she had learned we were ‘family’ she still would not tolerate being picked up. That made sense as the only time in the wild this would happen is if she were being carried off in the mouth of a predator.
Over the five days that followed, Squeak appeared at first to be doing well. However, on the morning of the sixth day, she was listless and weak. By the afternoon it was clear she was unlikely to make it through another night. I took her to a quiet place where she was too weak to object as I held her close until she slipped away.
We still often talk about Squeak, and certainly feel we were privileged to have had her to care for and learn from, but I do hope that Mother Nature takes care of her own for the foreseeable future.
Samantha du Toit is a wildlife conservationist, working with SORALO, a Maasai land trust. She lives with her husband, Johann, and their two children at Shompole Wilderness, a tented camp in the Shompole Conservancy.