The supporting cast
OU already know about Africa’s big five – the lion, leopard, elephant, water buffalo and rhino. They’re the heroes of safari, celebrated for decades by gun-toting game hunters looking for the worthiest of foes.
I’ve been fortunate to visit many game parks and have dutifully done the five.
But there are five African animals that give me just as great a thrill on safari. They’re the animals with bad manners and poor personal hygiene, the critters that are less than lovely on the eye, display unpalatable behaviour and are, in some cases, loathed.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you my Bestial Five. Warthogs are rare in the animal world in that even their babies are ugly. Sure, they’re funny, with their little sticky-up tails and comical trot. But pretty? No. The facial end of the warthog looks like it’s made with a bunch of stuff that no other animal wanted: two sets of tusks, tiny eyes, stiff whiskers and “warts”, the fatty protuberances that poke from either side of a ridiculously long face. But warthogs are good value precisely because they look so alien. They’re the gatekeepers of your African safari, telling you that you’ve arrived in the Dark Continent to encounter animal species you’ve only ever dreamt about. Chances are you’ll see the “pig of the plains” early in your trip, since they’re welcome guests in safari lodges. Warthog groundskeepers can be seen on the job 24/7, shuffling around on their front wrists (their front feet are tucked away, a sight in itself ) to keep the lawns looking lovely. Despite those tusks and a quite evil-looking razorback mane, they muddle along OK with human beings and will let you get close enough for truly brilliant photos. Don’t push your luck, though, in mating season, or when sows have piglets.
Last year, on a trip to Botswana, I discovered another reason to revere warthogs: they are absolutely delicious. Their meat is velvety smooth and baby-pink, a super-sweet pork that melts in your mouth.