Their squeals are deafening, and their feces smell bitter and hot. They are around five feet long and weigh between 120 and 180 pounds. They own short, prickly hairs, and live for approximately 20 years. They are the “famous” Red River Hogs.
They are not the most popular of pigs or animals for that matter. But they best define what a pig should be. They are loud, smelly, and messy. But there are a lot of things about the Red River Hogs most people do not know, and might find very interesting.
Even though these creatures are usually shorter than a toddler, they do have powerful mouths with extremely strong teeth. This is true especially for adult, male hogs.
Red River Hogs are originally from western and central Africa. They live in harem groups, which means that one dominant male watches over a group of females. Their diets consist of wild vegetation like berries, grass, and roots. They do not eat a lot of meat, but once in a while they will feed on small animals. However, they are hunted. In Africa, leopards are just one of these animal’s predators.
They are not highly endangered, but they are widely wanted for their bush meat, which means they are hunted and killed for their meat to be sold commercially. This has become a problem for animals that are now considered endangered.
Because I volunteer at a zoo, I get to clean these captive animals’ barns. Once I enter the barn, the air hits me warm and thick. It smells of sharp and sweet dung, and my eyes water. The pigs start to squeal, thinking it’s feeding time, and they bang on the door to try to get out onto their exhibit grounds. Their squeals are shrill but then all at once it’s quiet.
When most people visit the zoo, they go to the lion exhibit, the ape exhibit, or the elephant exhibit. No one would think, “Lets go see the wondrous Red River Hogs!”
Zoos acquire a wide variety of wild animals from all over the world. They can get them from the wild, but the majority of the time they buy or trade them from other zoos. The Red River Hogs were probably just another profit for the zoo. But we shouldn’t underestimate these animals. The zookeepers that work with them enjoy taking care of them, and the pigs are easy to work with.
The hogs grow quiet because the zookeepers have entered the exhibit with buckets of fruit, tennis balls on sticks, dog toys, and a canvas with some red and white paint on a bucket lid. The two female zookeepers wear ugly brown uniforms and their hair is pulled back in messy buns. They haul all the materials into the small, rich green grounds. The hog exhibit looks like it has been cut out of the African forest. It has a fake water hole in the middle, and tall brown grass with tiny yellow flowers cover the ground.
I stop to watch, curious as to what the zookeepers had meant when they had said, “Now, we are going to do our training session with the pigs.”
The first zookeeper hooks her dog toy on the fence and puts a long, silver whistle in her mouth.
She leads one of the pigs, Dippet, into a corner while the other zookeeper takes another pig, Pigglesworth, into another fenced-in area. She then proceeds to stick the tennis ball out to the right of Dippet and says, “Dippet, target.”
In two seconds, Dippet snorts, moves his nose to the tennis ball, and brushes it with his snout. Once he does this, the zookeeper whistles and gives him a piece of fruit.
Dippet smacks loudly and they continue. She changes it up periodically and says, “Dippet, station.” When she says “station” it takes a few seconds before he walks over to the dog toy, hanging by the fence, and brushes that with his nose. This proves to be the hardest objective.
But the other zookeeper has better luck with Pigglesworth and his station. Once she says “station” he walks about three feet to his station. It is remarkable that he is able to understand her.
They end that session on a very good note.
They take out one last pig, Clover, for her training. But instead of “target” and “station” they use “paint” and “canvas.”
They take Clover out and say, “Clover, paint.” She walks to the bucket lid and brushes her snout over the white paint. They whistle, say, “Clover, paint,” and Clover rushes over to the canvas that one of the zookeepers is holding and puts a streak of white paint across it.
I cannot believe it!
This goes on for a few more minutes. But because animals do not have a long attention span, the sessions end pretty quickly.
These hogs are trainable! It may take the zookeepers months to make a concept understandable to these animals, but it is possible. Why do it? It takes a lot of time. But training these wild animals will draw crowds to an exhibit that would otherwise be passed up. People may not want to go see ordinary wild hogs, but if the animals can do tricks, people will want to see this unbelievable event.
Besides the huge attraction the pigs will gain because of their tricks, the zoo will be able to make a bigger profit. The painting that Clover created will be sold to the public. Every hog creates a piece of artwork a week. That is a lot of paintings to be sold and money to be earned. Other wild animals, like the elephants and apes, are trained to do similar activities. Sometimes they paint too, and their paintings are sold to the public as well.
Sometimes certain animals are interesting, and sometimes they can bore someone to death. But animals always have something to show and give to us.
Wild animals are just “wild animals” to some people. We do not realize how incredible the animals are once they are pushed to show their amazing abilities.
To believe a Red River Hog might be a modern-day Picasso, all you have to do is notice what is beyond the animal’s “wild” appearance.