March 19, 2015
Photo credit: S. Fimpel, Wikimedia
The giant forest hog, a once abundant species in Uganda, now faces an uncertain future. ‘The giant forest hogs, they live in Uganda with us...,’ states Dr. Busulwa, a visiting scientist at Cambridge, from the Makerere University  . His ethical stance indicates attitude, different from the traditional conservation approaches, in which the goal has been to keep the animals and the peoples as separate as possible from each other. It also highlights the difficulties in the conservation of species, which are not conventionally considered ‘charismatic’ or ‘flagship.’ While other large mammals, such as elephants, have been at the center of public attention, the giant forest hog has not been so lucky.
A shy giant
The hog is a shy giant – the largest representative of the 16 pig species in the world . The adults are of formidable length – ranging from 130-210 cm, with an equally imposing height of 75-110 cm. They can weigh from 180 to 275 kg. These forest giants, who try to avoid people and appreciate the occasional mud-baths, bring multiple benefits to the forest ecosystems – e.g. dispersing plant species, redistributing and aerating the soil, etc. Yet according to an international safari-hunting site, the gentle giants are some of the biggest ‘tuskers,’ described as ‘the biggest, heaviest, rarest and ugliest of the Suidae family of Africa.’
Now in Uganda, the hog’s numbers are declining. At first glance the reasons for the population decline are local: most of the hogs are reportedly hunted locally for food, rather than being subject to illegal wildlife trade. National Geographic reports that scientists attempting to track the hog have come across numerous traps set by hunters, ‘a local patrol discovered 59 snares in just four days—set to capture not only forest hogs but other species such as bush buck’ . Conservationists argue that helping to inform and educate local people about the endangered status of the giant forest hog could bring a positive change. “It would be a real tragedy if the species or significant populations of the species became extinct,” states Rafael Reyna-Hurtado, a wildlife ecologist with the National Geographic . Dr. Busulwa warns: ‘We fail to see value of the resources.’
‘A rare animal that makes a great hunt’
While some scientists place the chief blame on the poor local communities, a great number of visual records testify about the trophy-hunting success of foreign hunters, who have boastfully taken mementos with the giant forest hogs, that they have killed. Thus, while claiming non-complicity in the hog’s declining numbers, the global community is by no means an innocent by-stander. The locals hunt the hogs for their meat, while the hunting safari companies advertise: ‘the hogs are interesting, exciting, challenging and satisfying to hunt.’ The reclusive gentle giants are an exciting prey for foreign hunters with one of them confessing: ‘They are a new passion for me – is it their ugliness or their craftiness??’ The hunting safari companies see the giant forest hog as a ‘rare animal that makes a great hunt.’ Sadly, it is precisely the rarity of the animal and its trophy-tusks that make it a desired game.
Successful conservation means education
Yet, the future of the giant forest hog may not be so bleak. Dr. Busulwa shares an encouraging story – the giant forest hogs in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda have of recent increased in numbers, probably due to the protection measures there. He advises, however, that protection within the bounds of the park can have limited success in ensuring the species’ survival as the hogs continue to be much endangered outside the protected areas. Ultimately, the success of conservation practices needs to acknowledge the paradox of a particular kind ofignorance propagated by the current educational system, which aspires towards a particular kind of ‘European standards.’ Dr. Busulwa cautions: ‘Our surviving ecosystems are in danger of ignorance and will continue to be destroyed by educated people. In education people are thought about the “European ways.” Everybody who goes to school likes to live in a flat.‘ Thus, he emphasizes the need for a more long-term approach, focusing on creating conservation-conscious formal education curriculum, which will educate the students about the conservation challlenges of Africa. Consequently, even those, who will not become environmental professionals would still participate in conserving the ecosystem values, hopes the scientist.
‘The giant forest hogs live in Uganda with us’
European students also need to change their educational curriculum. The supposedly ‘European ways of living’ tags wealth to a certain kind of ‘development;’ development which many of those who live in Europe deeply question. In Europe, we no longer live with the giant forest hog – we have lost the memories of how to live with such a magnificent animal and we are much poorer for that. As the hogs try to cope with the pressures of poaching and shrinking habitats, the least that those ‘living in flats’ ought to do is trade the telescopic lenses of their guns for those of photographic cameras. Safari means ‘journey,’ ‘being away‘ in Swahili. Now, as the shy gentle giants of the Ugandan forests face an uncertain future, we are left with only two kinds of ‘journeys’: one is a journey with the giant forest hog, and the other one – into the darkness of one’s own heart.
The author gratefully acknowledges that the major lectures, cited in this blog, was presented at the Visiting African Fellows’ Research Showcase, Cambridge-Africa Programme, which took place on 09.03.2015 at Cambridge.
 Dr. Henry Ssebuliba Busulwa, 09.03.2015, ‘Developing a new science education curriculum to promote sustainability, ecology and the environment (Science Education)’ – CAPREx Fellow (Makerere University , Uganda), Visiting African Fellows’ Research Showcase, Cambridge-Africa Programme.
 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/41769/0
 Christine Dell’Amore, 06.11.2013, ‘Exclusive video: the world’s biggest pig revealed,’ National Geographic, Accessed at: http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2013/11/06/exclusive-video-worlds-biggest-pig-revealed/, accessed on 10.03.2015.
Source of photo 1: Wikipedia.”Hylochoerus meinertzhageni” by S. Fimpel (firstname.lastname@example.org) – de: Bild:Woodies.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hylochoerus_meinertzhageni.jpg#/media/File:Hylochoerus_meinertzhageni.jpg
Source of photo 2: Rafael Reyna-Hurtad, National Geographic, http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/files/2013/11/giant-forest-hog.jpg
Author : TinaSchivatcheva