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.