Friday, 10 October 2014

Wildplace 7: Red River Hog

Red River Hog
Although not especially rich in species, pigs are found naturally all over the Old World except Australasia, and have been introduced to both Australasia and the Americas, with feral domestic pigs being one of the most destructive of invasive species. Domestic pigs are of course derived from the very widespread Eurasian Wild Boar, but in Africa as well as the domestic pig one of the commonest sources of bushmeat are related species of wild pig, the bushpig Potamochoerus larvatus and the subject of this article, the Red River Hog Potamochoerus porcus 

Red River Hogs are often seen in zoos, as they are the most spectacularly coloured of all pigs, and as with almost all members of the pig family are not exactly difficult to feed or house – their diet as with all members of the pig family is basically anything they can dig up with food value, whether it be roots, fallen fruit, insects, small mammals, or carrion. In the UK their housing requirements are basically an area of soft ground for them to root about in, with a shelter with some heat for the winter months, and shade for these forest loving animals. One important feature is secure fencing - as with all pigs they are very good at digging and can get their way under insufficiently secure barriers. They also like to wallow, especially in hot weather, and their enclosure has a shallow pool they can lay in if they like.

In the wild Red River Hogs are found throughout the forested regions of West and Central Africa, replaced by the bushpig to the east and south. As with most pigs they are sociable, living in sounders comprising of a single adult boar plus females and young. In the wild they are mostly nocturnal, lying up in dense vegetation during the day and travelling miles overnight in search of food. They need to be secretive – they are a main food source for all sorts of predators, especially leopards, although even chimpanzees are known to take piglets sometimes, and they are widely hunted by people.. To make up for the losses they are fairly prolific, with litters of 1 – 4 offspring each year.

People used to domestic livestock are often surprised at how long hooved animals can live, as domestic beef cattle and pigs are usually slaughtered when under 3 years old. In captivity at least, river hogs can live to be 20, and this is probably a typical lifespan for most wild pigs. The two animals at Wildplace are young males under 2 years old, so they should be there for visitors for many years to come. Their presence at Wildplace is as examples of the wildlife of the Congo basin, rather than as being of special conservation interest – they are evaluated as Least Concern by the IUCN and are likely to stay so for the foreseeable future. Except for island species or those with restricted ranges, the various pigs of the world are mostly in pretty good shape, with their only problems being persecution by farmers for eating their crops. It was a combination of deforestation and persecution by farmers which caused the extinction of the Wild Boar in Britain, but as a result of escapes from game farms there are now many living wild in the UK, including a major population in the Forest of Dean close to Bristol. These feral populations are now a major cause of concern as they have no natural predators and can be devastating to both peoples. gardens and at risk habitats, while pig farmers fear they are a reservoir for diseases of their livestock. For more on British Wild Boar, see the links opposite.
Nest time, one of the most important animals at Wildplace, the Okapi

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