An unexpected nocturnal visitor

A quiet evening on the farm was rudely disturbed by the appearance of one of the bushveld’s toughest and most fearless animals, writes Jurie Nel.

An unexpected nocturnal visitor
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It was 10 o’clock, and time to take the dogs for their evening constitutional. It had been a balmy, beautiful evening, looking out from our stoep down towards the Broederstroom and up its valley. Relaxing, too – starting with a sundowner and followed by a braai on the stoep, watching the bats doing their share to keep the mosquito numbers in check. This area around Magoebaskloof and Haenertsburg is wonderfully tranquil – and this evening had been particularly so.

The dogs, which had been lazing inside the house all evening, needed no calling. I quickly checked their numbers – three ageing Scottish terriers, one hyperactive plaasfoksie, one Weimaraner and the young black Labrador. All present and correct, sir. I locked the kitchen door behind us. I was relaxed, surrounded as I was by six keen dogs, and as I walked around the house to the driveway in darkness I checked my cellphone for messages.

I walked slowly, allowing the dogs time to sniff around and do their necessary. Our farm – a guest farm that also produces pine – nestles in luxuriant vegetation. I was still on the lawn, not 10 paces from the corner of the house, when I suddenly became aware that all was not as it should be. My hackles rose and the cellphone disappeared into a pocket. The heavy torch with its powerful beam was in my right hand and the snubnose .38 Special revolver was instantly, comfortingly, in my dominant left hand.

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Everything was quiet, but there was an intense and far too frenetic milling around of dogs not three paces from me. Then my torch revealed the biggest, strangest dog I had ever seen. A good 90cm at the shoulder, 1,5m long, it was as ugly as sin, and was silently chasing the dogs around – and being chased in turn. But whose mongrel was this? It had the coarsest, most bristle-like fur I had ever seen on a dog – grey and long, but sparse. Its body was high at the shoulder and low at the hip like a hyena. And it had the thickest neck ever, a long head tapering down to…a snout. Bushpig!

This could turn ugly. A bushpig is exceedingly dangerous to both dog and man. Omnivorous, they eat carcasses and have been known to kill. I had an insane desire to shoot it – bushpig meat is delicious. But the bullets in the snubbie had been made to stop men, not bushpigs. And my dogs were at serious risk of injury or death. Strange all the thoughts, and how quickly they pursue each other through one’s mind!

I fired a shot into the ground to urge it on his way. But it didn’t run. Instead, it briefly ran towards the nearest dog, then haughtily trotted off the lawn, across the driveway and into the scrub undergrowth along the pines. I listened for a while – it had rejoined its family sounder and they were grunting softly to each other, probably not 20 paces away.

Battle scars
I examined each of the dogs by torchlight. All were unscathed, except for the Weimaraner, which had suffered a 60mm gash almost to the bone on the chest exactly between the forelegs, and a hole right through the muscle above the left ‘elbow’. Early the next morning the vet in Tzaneen stitched her up and she was fine almost immediately.

I believe, although I did not see it, that she was the one that had finally confronted the pig. The Weimaraner was originally bred to be a pointer and retriever of birds as well as a hunter of the European wild boar. This animal can be highly aggressive, and the Weimaraner was bred to protect its master against a wounded boar.

I believe that is exactly what happened that night – Misty was protecting me against the bushpig when she was gashed.
What was the pig doing on the lawn so close to the house? Casting about in the undergrowth the next morning, I found plenty of signs that this sounder had been spending some time there. Conditions are close to ideal for them there, provided they can come to terms with the dogs – which I am convinced they actually had done.

But on that evening I unwittingly came too close to the sounder, and the dogs attempted to chase them off. The boar would have none of this, and in turn chased them off – straight to me, where they made their stand. There are still fresh signs that the bushpigs frequent the immediate vicinity of the house. It adds to the charm. They are such secretive and elusive animals that surprisingly little is known about them. But they are welcome neighbours!

There are many frequent sightings of hares, bushbuck, duiker, mongoose, wild cats, otters and even a honey badger. By contrast, we’ve seen bushpig only four times in the last nearly 12 years, and two sightings have been in daylight – a rare occurrence in itself, as bushpigs are predominantly nocturnal.

The other night-time sighting occurred two months after the one described here, a bit further into the walk along the homestead’s perimeter road, and just 50 paces from the point of the last encounter. That boar was obviously not frightened off by a little gunshot noise from a .38 Special!

A fearless animal
The bushpig, when wounded or cornered, has no fear of man nor beast. It will fight to the finish, giving a very good account of itself. However, its shyness and wariness makes it exceedingly difficult to hunt or even trap. It is a crop raider par excellence – ask any farmer of sugar cane, maize, sweetcorn, tubers or vegetables in bushpig country.

Bushpigs are social animals, and sounders at times consist of various family groupings, which seem to get together to form larger groups. The latter are a loose arrangement, however, and it is unclear why they are sometimes formed. Boars are often found alone. Again, it is not clear why, as these lone boars do not fall into any particular age group. The truth is, they are virtually impossible to observe in their natural habitat.

The boars fiercely protect their young – whether their own or those of other boars. A piglet squealing in pain or fright attracts every adult bushpig boar within earshot in as long as it takes the boar to sprint there. The bushpig is a fearsome adversary, and an animal that should certainly be respected. It should no less be admired.

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