Thursday, July 14, 2011

Wally the Naughty Warthog

Katima Mulilo — In plain, simple language a poster on a sturdy pole near the terrace at Caprivi River Lodge warns about crocodiles lurking in the Zambezi River.

Wally Greeting a guest

The area between the poster and the terrace is the place where 'Wally the warthog' is king as he forages while grunting and squealing and throwing his massive weight around, going about his business.

For breakfast, Wally who wakes up at 05h00 from the bedroom of his 'parents' takes two slices of bread with a cup of lukewarm tea before he goes foraging.

When he forages too close to the river, Mary, with genuine parental concern, calls the warthog by his name and without hesitation Wally promptly obeys the command by trotting away from the danger zone.

Mary Rooken-Smith is the woman who brought up the warthog and Wally believes this woman is his 'mother'. And like any naughty child he occasionally gets a "spanking" whenever he strays from the straight path, or steals the food from other animals that make up the lodge's mini menagerie comprising Wally, guinea fowls, cats and dogs.

Wally is a celebrity of some sort because tourists who visit the up-market Caprivi River Lodge on the banks of the Zambezi simply like or adore him.

He is probably the most photographed warthog as he hob-nobs with droves of visitors who tour Caprivi and who often take snapshots of him to keep fresh their close encounters and fond memories of Wally.

They come to adore him after a story is narrated how Wally was orphaned either by poachers or probably by a pride of lions in the Mudumu National Park.

Wally sneaking around guests rooms

Mary said his salvation came about ironically while her husband Keith Rooken-Smith was on a big-game hunting mission in the Mudumu National Park.

"He is around 13 months, he is still very much a baby," she says about Wally, who is obviously overweight and looks much older than his age.

"We found him at the end of October in Mudumu National Park. My husband, who was with his clients, found him there. They saw these baby warthogs on their own. They were very small, very, very tiny and very weak," she recalls about the rescue.

"Then my husband got down on his hunches and called them. The one little one came up to him and he picked him (Wally) up - he saw they were orphans and so small and weak and did not have the fear of a person. Then my husband gave me a call and he said he has got a baby warthog and asked me to come and pick it up. Up to that time I had never seen a baby warthog. I did not know what to expect," she said.

"When I got to the camp I asked the camp people where the warthog was. They told me the warthog was in my husband's tent. So I went there and I looked for that small warthog expecting something of this size," she said, outstretching her arms for added effect.

"I went back to them and said there is nothing in the tent and they said it has to be there. So I went back and looked again and in the corner under the bed there was this tiny little bundle. I was very surprised at how small it was," explained Mary.

Initially she did not know what to do but luckily her husband's client then who was a vet gave her tips on warthog-rearing and through a hypodermic syringe she fed Wally his first meal - some peanut butter.

"The only way you could give him some food was through a syringe.
"And I bought baby food and baby milk and I fed him with a syringe, but it was a terrible job.

Then I introduced him to a baby teat and it was like 24-hour feeding.
My husband and I took turns feeding him," she says.

"Eventually he was big enough. So I started giving him porridge with a spoon. I think they were living on guinea fowl droppings. I had a guinea fowl and he used to pick and eat their droppings. Wally loved his bottle with infant formula," recalled Mary.

"Then there was no more milk and now he grazes, forages and he eats plants and grass but he is still fed a mixture of apples and rice twice a day," she added.

"In the morning Wally loves his bowl of tea with two pieces of bread in it, and if he doesn't get it he will mourn, mourn and mourn," further narrated Mary.

"Wally is a combination of having a dog and a naughty kid in the house. He is a combination of both. He looks up to Kamata (a beagle) as his big brother and he looks at other animals, the cats the guinea fowls as members of his family," she stated.

"He is the most photographed pig around here. Tourists and business people take a lot of photos of him. He is definitely a novelty and he is a chocoholic - loves chocolate. He is a gentle giant," she says.

Ninety percent of guests at the lodge "love Wally, but one American put it nicely, saying it was such a privilege to know Wally who is non-aggressive although curious and he likes to meet people."

Wally likes guests to take note of him and if given a chance he will not hesitate to peek into women's handbags and "given half a chance he will join them in bed or even join them in the shower."

She describes him as quite some character; "He is quite a character and he has quite a strict routine. He gets up about half past five in the morning. During the day he sleeps a lot because it is too hot here.

"In the evening he sleeps after his dinner.
He is given a little tidbit to put him to bed - sometimes a little fruit or a little dog biscuit then I sit with him for about 10 minutes till he goes to sleep, then it's dinner time and the bar.

We have to be strict with Wally, otherwise we won't be able to cope," she said. Wally, who is ear-tagged lest he gets lost and to ensure he is not mistaken for one of those wild warthogs, sleeps on a separate bed in the couple's bedroom.

The riverside lodge where Wally stays has chalets and cabins and on two stately occasions President Hifikepunye Pohamba has been its VIP guest