Sometime in 1996 Dixon Mkansi, just returned from a bush walk with guests, came across a very vocal little warthog in the driveway leading up to Djuma Bush Lodge.

When after a few days she was still around we realized she must somehow have been separated from her mother and siblings, a similar-aged family having been seen not far from the lodge. By that stage she had become too weak to find them and was in need of some TLC from foster moms Pendrae and Douglas. Doug helped get Nomfu (meaning “nose” in Tsonga) onto the bottle, but the little warthog had quite bad diarrhoea and for the first few days we were a bit worried lest she should not make it. However, she survived and started pulling strings around camp: she moved into Pendrae and Campbell’s bed and preferred having the TV on while she slept!
Nomfu, for all her quirky looks, was extremely smart. She house-trained quicker than any dog and had a strong sense of humour. Her nose was designed for digging in the dirt, which meant that a snotty mud patch lead her around all day. She would inevitably go up to guests wearing the lightest-coloured clothing, smear her nose on their pants, squeal, and run off! Another thing she liked doing was to lie in the chalet showers, where it was cool and peaceful. On more than one occasion she gave huge frights to guests who had stepped in for a quick wash only to set off a horrendous squealing – sometimes of pig, sometimes of guest.
Jurie and I started encouraging her to go out into the bush as much as possible as soon as we realised Nomfu would be a handful to have around if she stayed for too long. Her tusks had just started emerging, she was getting rather large and her behaviour was becoming less ‘cute’ by the day. A favourite trick was to pull the tablecloth off the lunch table and revel in the food that landed on the floor. She would also get up early, before the guests’ wake-up call, and hang around for the coffee trays to be placed outside the chalets. Then she would tip the trays over to lick up the milk and sugar and steal the rusks.
That new found confidence was a sign that she no longer needed bottles of milk, but she did still like the attention from her canine ‘mother’, whom she pestered with rather forceful nudges. Douglas was becoming very irritated with her and sharply retaliated one morning while the guests were tucking into breakfast in the boma (enclosed outdoor eating area). An almighty squeal erupted from the vicinity of Chalet Six (where her ‘home’ was) and the pig and pig-shaped Douglas tore through the bushes, murderous sounds trailing in their wake. Jurie and I had become quite adept at calming guests down during times of unexpected mayhem within camp. Eventually, after catching up with the animals, we saw Doug had bitten off the tip of one of Nomfu’s ears.
One of the most memorable Nomfu stories relates to one lazy midday at Djuma Bush Lodge. Our first office was behind the bar – it is now the bar storeroom - and Jurie was finishing up some paper work before lunch. Lynneth Mathebula, who was a waitress way back then, came to Jurie and announced that, ‘The pig is in the hole’. Jurie did not pay much attention until he was forced to do so by a very insistent Lynneth, who kept pointing out to the lawn. We had forgotten about the septic tank under the lawn in front of Chalet No.1! Over the years the corrugated-iron cover to the pit had deteriorated, and it had given way under the weight of Nomfu’s busy digging for tasty titbits with her snout.
There was Nomfu, two meters down in near darkness, with just her head peeping out above the swill. A couple of men joined Jurie in fashioning a lasso: it was lowered and tightened behind her tusks and she was hauled up. Naturally the stench was unspeakable and a bath was essential. The men wrestled her to the ground while the mess was hosed off her. As fate would have it three very serious German guests had just arrived and everyone in camp was too stinky or speechless to welcome them! Once they realised we were not preparing dinner, and we became more composed, they relaxed a little.
It had become clear that, before a potential staff strike developed any further we needed to make a plan about Nomfu. Pendrae and Campbell – who would have loved to have kept her around forever - were on leave, so Jurie and I saw our chance! The Beckers, neighbours of ours, offered to take her, as they were still in the process of building their camp and did not have guests who could be disturbed by the ever-expanding Nomfu. They accommodated her in her own room complete with a TV: she did not have to manage even one night without her creature comforts. We did hear that she put her tusks through a brand-new door, which could not have done much in her favour. A couple of days later, of her own accord, she arrived back at Bush Lodge.
Next we adopted the tough-love approach, loaded her into the bakkie and drove her out into the bush. We found some other warthogs and coaxed her out of the vehicle. Afterwards Jurie would go out and check on her every day. She seemed fine, eating, and in great warthog company. She was always easy to spot: the missing segment of ear quite obviously distinguished her from her new mates.
However, she then found her way to the reserve gate where the gate guards started feeding her and she became a nuisance again. Some other neighbours, thinking we were being cruel and unkind, took Nomfu back to their camp, which was also in the stage of being built. Nomfu quickly became skilled at lifting newly-laid flooring tiles, and was soon persona non grata there as well.
We had to accept responsibility for the dilemma we had created. Basically, although she was fully able to support herself in the bush, it was a lot easier for Nomfu to hang out with humans and not to have to work too hard for a living. This meant we had to find a place for her somewhere far away from camps or lodges and with access to water and warthog habitat. We phoned one of the section rangers at Kruger National Park for advice, and he said he would drop Nomfu off in a wilderness area of the Park. These are special parts of the Park that are off limits to tourists and provide safe, quiet havens for the game to carry on doing what ever it is they do. The neighbours were incensed, but, I guess, a bit relieved as well, when we bid farewell to Nomfu. We did get regular report-backs about her, and it seems that the story ended well.
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Our African Way