Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Year of the pig – let’s talk about hogs!

According to the Chinese (Lunar) calendar and starting today, 2019 is the Year of the Pig. We will take this opportunity to have a look the hogs (pigs) at Chimp&See as we’ve just realized, we have never really talked about them before and don’t have a formal guide (yet!).

Chimp&See features four different hog species with some great video footage. They all have large body sizes, a wedge-shaped big head and the signature out-turned huge canine tusks in common. But a closer look at fur, adaptations, and also location of occurrence shows striking differences.

A short video guide from our camera trap footage - and more details below.

Giant forest hogs (Hylochoerus meinertzhageni) can be seen in all African forest habitats. As the name suggest, they are the biggest African hog, heavily build with a big, sturdy head and broad, naked face. They have often rather spare dark fur with the lighter orangey-brown skin shining through. Variation in coat length and density and in different lighting situations let them appear in a wide range from light-brown and hairless to almost black with a thick fur. Male giant forest hogs can have enormously swollen preorbital glands (shown in the screenshot below) that are considered as a type of scent glands, but could also have anti-pathogenic effects.

A giant forest hog with enormously swollen preorbital glands.

Red river hogs (Potamochoerus porcus) can be seen often and in big groups at almost every West and Central African site. Their shiny red coat is short and very well visible in the forest. A clear blonde dorsal crest is usually seen. The faces are dark with white cheek tufts; the ears have adorably looking light tassels.

Red river hog

Bushpigs (Potamochoerus larvatus) have the coolest and most diverse color morphs of all African wild pigs. Their coat color ranges from black / brown / gray to red and blondish and is accentuated by white applications at the face and towards the dorsal crest. They have also these cute ear tassels, usually in black. Although subspecies are identified, the color diversity is seen in single groups of these animals. The fur is quite long and looks shaggy, especially after a good rain. Bushpigs are the smallest of the four species and are found at our Eastern sites, like Restless Star and Green Snowflake. More towards central Africa – where they meet the red river hog home range – a zone of interbreeding between these two closely related species can occur.

The multi-colored bushpig

The warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) lives predominantly in arid savannah habitat like at our West African site Dry Lake. It is most easily distinguishable from the other hogs because of its unique body build. The warthog body is more barrel-shaped due to the lack of subcutaneous adipose tissue and the legs are longer. In addition, warthogs fancy a mane that reaches from the head down to the spine. Because of their long legs and a rather short neck, we often see them kneeling down to feed or drink.

A warthog dropped to its knees to feed.
A detailed field guide for hogs and other ungulates will be part of the new Chimp&See interface to be launched soon.

For everyone celebrating the Chinese New Year, all fans of hogs, and just everyone – we wish you a happy and successful 2019. Come over to Chimp&See to check out camera trap video footage from Africa’s wildlife!

Forget me not 🌼

I´m afraid this one is not going to be the most didactic text I will write. It´s not even going to be about elephants, chimps or animal welfare actions. In fact, this is about passion, friendship, fellowship, self-confidence and finding my own way.

It was only five years ago when I received a link telling: “hey, this might be something for you 😉 “. It was Ingo from Africa sending me a link from the PanAf team asking for help to code videos recorded by camera traps located all over the chimpanzee natural range in Africa - sounds familiar?

Right at that time I was experiencing quite a frustrating professional moment in Germany, you know, when you feel like “I love being a mother, I love my kids, I know I do a great job…but I need to feel professionally complete”. So this was the right moment…the big moment! I still remember when I got the videos to be coded and a short letter from Mimi saying:

    “Dear Nuria, thank you so much for your help coding videos for our project! Welcome to the PanAf team!”.

Welcome! PanAf team!!!! YAY!!!! Can you believe it? I had no idea what I had to do or even if I was qualified to do it, but I knew that I wanted to do it and that I was going to do all my best, about that I was absolutely sure!!

I´m going to tell you a secret: ever since I was a child I wanted to be like Dian Fossey. Remember the film “Gorillas in the mist” when she introduces herself to the professor who searches for volunteers to do gorilla censuses in Africa? after he asks her what she knew about Gorillas she replies: nothing, but I can count”. Isn´t it great? That´s exactly what I believe it´s all about: it´s about wanting to, about having passion for what you do…and if you work with all your heart and put all your dedication and trust in what you do, the knowledge will come easy.

I´m not going to lie, this wasn´t always an easy pathway. In fact, I felt very unsure, overwhelmed and scared at times, which I think made me a stronger woman now. But you know what? When you have the best working team of the entire world, what can go wrong? Even though I have been working remotely, my team/friends have always made me feel that I belonged to the group, and that they considered me as a part of the project. Now I´ve grown as a person and as a professional, and they incredibly helped me with this.

I already had had my experience as an ecologist, but never in my whole years of University and later jobs had I learnt so much about wildlife, ecology, conservation…and of course working remotely helped me catch up on computer things, from writing to reading formal emails properly (oh God, I didn´t even know what ASAP in an email meant!!)…and have a look at me now, I am a blogger!💪

Then came C&S. C&S…I owe you guys soooo much! You won´t believe it. From each and every of you I have learnt how to coordinate a team, how to work tidily, how to be patient and rigorous. And how to be humble and always bear in mind that it´s absolutely fine if I make mistakes. And this specially I owe to Mimi, who has been so empathic and encouraging even when I did crap. These last five years have been the greatest, most rewarding professional years in my life, and at that point of my life I wasn´t expecting that; what a beautiful surprise, my job, my love, my passion…my life.

Although I think of all the possibilities that will for sure come now for me and that I´m ready for a new and exciting phase in my life, I feel tremendously sad for leaving and can´t help my tears from falling while I write this.  I´m going to miss you guys, all of you! I and the PanAf team have so much to thank you all volunteers! You have been doing an awesome job. We can never thank you guys enough in the name of conservation. In this crazy world with so many ecological challenges in sight, what we did for species protection has no price, really, and I am f… proud of us!

I hope our paths will cross again, at some point, at some place…

                                                                          Hey, we did a great job together 😊

Germany, 2016
Spain, 2019