The wild, red-coated, 'tufted pig' is a Yoda-lookalike from western and central Africa which, like Yoda, lives near swamps (and rivers).
Pigs are charismatic, smart animals, but this little piggy takes the ginger biscuit. The red river hog, otherwise known as the ‘tufted pig’, is a wild member of the pig family, found in western and central Africa.
With its striking red coat, it’s the most colourful member of the pig family. Its vibrant pelt is topped off with a thin, white mane that runs the length of its back, on top of stocky, black legs and sturdy trotters.
Its face is part ALF (the alien life form from the ’80s American sitcom), part Dobby the house elf (from the Harry Potter stories).
Whiskers protrude from the base of a long, black snout, while its jet-black eyes are framed by bold white markings. The contrasting marks are a form of camouflage, called disruptive coloration, which breaks up the animal’s outline so it can blend in with the background.
Its ears, however, are the main event. Tapered triangles give way to spectacularly long tufts of hair, which frame the face and add a touch of wizard-chic to the animal’s unconventional beauty.
Red river hogs live in small groups of around 4-20 animals, called sounders. They can be found in rainforests and the adjacent savannah, and often hang out near rivers and swamps. Each sounder is led by a single boar, who watches over a harem of females and their youngsters.
Weighing between 50 and 100kg (110-220lbs), they may be one of the smaller pig species, but they’re feisty. Males fight off rivals by head butting, snout jabbing and whipping each other with their tails, and will readily defend their family from leopards, spotted hyaenas and pythons.
Within the group, individuals communicate with an inventive repertoire of grunts and squeals. They snooze the day away and then forage at night. Like all pigs, red river hogs are omnivores, devouring whatever they can find. Fruit, seeds, nuts, eggs, snails, carrion and lizards are all fair game, as are domestic animals and crops, such as goats and cassava.
They use their teeth to dig for roots, bulbs and insects, and can swim and forage for water plants. They also have a penchant for the seeds of the Boko tree (Balanites wilsoniana), which they find, undigested, in the faeces of elephants and by following chimpanzees in the hope of coming upon fallen fruit.
Females give birth to up to six piglets between the end of the dry season in February and the middle of the rainy season in July. Mothers fashion a makeshift nest from dead leaves and dry grass, and care for the youngsters with the boar’s protection.
The piglets, which initially sprout dark-brown fur with yellow stripes and spots, are weaned at four months and develop their ginger coat two months later. The dark facial markings come with full maturity, about two years after that.
The species is not currently endangered, but as the hogs continue to encroach on agricultural land and the bushmeat trade intensifies, there are concerns that local populations could dwindle. Time then, for people to collab-boar-ate to help save this little piggy’s bacon, before things go downhill.