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New desert warthog records for Laikipia County, central Kenya

By Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski

There are two species of warthog, the well-known common warthog Phacochoerus africanus and the desert warthog Phacochoerus aethiopicus. The latter occupies the Horn of Africa and Kenya but it once occurred in South Africa and, perhaps, Namibia, where it was known as the ‘Cape warthog’. The desert warthog, long overlooked by zoologists, is one of Africa’s least studied and most poorly-known large mammals. Although this pig was described in 1766, confusion concerning its taxonomy resulted in the recognition of only one species of warthog, the common warthog.

The desert warthog was ‘rediscovered’ in 1991¹. Ten years later the first distribution map² for this species showed four localities in Kenya. Today, 20 years later, we know that the desert warthog is widespread in Kenya and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa east of the Eastern Rift Valley. In fact, the desert warthog is now known to occur in Laikipia County, central Kenya.

Major differences between the desert warthog and the common warthog
In 2005, soon after we started documenting the distribution of the desert warthog with Jean-Pierre d’Huart, some surprises concerning its distribution have emerged. Here is a brief overview of the discoveries:
  • In 2005, we found two solitary individuals 15 km and 80 km west of Garissa in medium-dense Acacia bushland. These records extended the geographic range about 265 km northwestwards from Mkokoni on the north coast of Kenya.
Adult male desert warthog west of Garissa, central eastern Kenya.
  • Desert warthog were first reported³ in Tsavo East National Park and Tsavo West National Park in 2007. This was not only a large range extension to the south but also provided the first records of sympatry as common warthog is also present in these two parks.
Adult male desert warthog, Tsavo West National Park, southeastern Kenya.
  • Several areas of sympatry have been found in Kenya (e.g., Meru National Park and the north coast of Kenya) as well as in northern Somalia and central eastern Ethiopia⁴.
Adult female desert warthog, Meru National Park, central Kenya.
  • In 2016, we found both desert warthog and common warthog on Lekurruki Conservancy and Il’Ngwesi Conservancy, northeastern Laikipia County. These are the first records for desert warthog in Laikipia County.
Adult male desert warthog, Lekurruki Group Ranch, northeastern Laikipia.
  • In 2020, Anne Powys⁵ obtained the first desert warthog record for the Laikipia Plateau (Suyian Ranch). This not only represents the western-most record for this species, it is also an altitudinal record (1,895 metres above sea level). Both species of warthog are present on Suyian Ranch.
Desert warthog sounder, Suyian Ranch, northern Laikipia.
  • In January 2021, on Suyian Ranch, we found, for the first time, sounders comprised both of desert warthog and common warthog.
Adult female desert warthog (front left) and adult male desert warthog (front right) with an adult male common warthog on Suyian Ranch, Laikipia.
  • In February 2021, we obtained the first record for desert warthog on Loisaba Conservancy, northern Laikipia. Common warthog is also present here.
Desert warthog sounder at Loisaba Conservancy, northern Laikipia.
The desert warthog is a grazer. In Laikipia, we encountered them mostly on former boma sites where the grass is relatively short, green, and nutritious. Despite what the name suggests, the desert warthog is water dependent. The desert warthog is probably vulnerable to climatic extremes (particularly drought, high rainfall, and low temperature), disease and predation. The main threats are, however, human-caused habitat degradation, loss and fragmentation, as well as competition with livestock for water and food, and hunting by people. Although the desert warthog is listed as ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species⁶, its abundance and geographic range are in decline.

So, what is next for the desert warthog? Our up-dated desert warthog distribution map is completed and ready to be published. We continue, however, to compile new distribution records, particularly for Laikipia. Does desert warthog occur on other ranches in Laikipia? Does it interbreed with common warthog? Did this species arrive only recently in Laikipia? Many questions remain unanswered.

If you have records for desert warthog for any sites, or skulls, please send an image and the details of your encounter to yvonne@wildsolutions.nl or tbutynski@aol.com.

More warthog photos are available on our Warthog Photographic Map at:  https://wildsolutions.nl/photomaps/phacochoerus/
Adult male (right) and adult female (left) desert warthog on Suyian Ranch, Laikipia.
All photographs by Yvonne de Jong & Tom Butynski.

We thank Anne Powys, Archie Voorspuy, Tom Sylvester and Jean-Pierre d’Huart.

References

¹d’Huart, J.P. & W.L.R. Oliver (1993). Review of priorities of conservation action and future research on Afrotropical suids. In: W.L.R. Oliver (ed.), Pigs, Peccaries and Hippos: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan (pp. 101–106). IUCN, Gland.

²d’Huart, J.-P. & Grubb, P. (2001). Distribution of the common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) and the desert warthog (Phacochoerus aethiopicus) in the Horn of Africa. African Journal of Ecology 39: 156–169.

³Culverwell, J., Feely, J., Bell-Cross, S., De Jong, Y.A. & Butynski, T.M. (2008). A new pig for Tsavo. Swara 31: 50–52.

³De Jong, Y.A., Culverwell, J. & Butynski T.M. (2009). Desert warthog Phacochoerus aethiopicus found in Tsavo East National Park and Tsavo West National Park, southern Kenya. Suiform Soundings 8: 4–6.

⁴De Jong, Y.A., d’Huart, J.-P. & Butynski, T.M. (2018). Biogeography and conservation of desert warthog Phacochoerus aethiopicus and common warthog Phacochoerus africanus in the Horn of Africa. Poster, 12th International Symposium on Wild Boar and Other Suids, Lázně Bělohrad, Czech Republic.

⁴De Jong, Y.A., d’Huart, J.-P. & Butynski, T.M. (In preparation). Biogeography and conservation of desert warthog (Phacochoerus aethiopicus) and common warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) in the Horn of Africa.

⁴De Jong, Y.A. & Butynski, T.M. (2018). Desert warthog Phacochoerus aethiopicus desert warthog. In M. Melletti, & E. Meijaard, E. (Eds.), Ecology, Evolution and Management of Wild Pigs and Peccaries: Implications for Conservation (pp. 101–113). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

⁵Powys, A. (2020). New large mammal for the Laikipia Plateau. Forum Focus, 2 April 2020.

De Jong, Y.A., Butynski, T.M. & d’Huart, J.-P. (2016). Phacochoerus aethiopicus. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T41767A99376685. IUCN/SSC, Gland, Switzerland.

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