Greetings and Salutations,
Milling around in a Game Park blanketed in darkness - the kind of environment that only Africa can produce - is a must for every tourist. Tour companies refer to such trips as "night drives" or "night safaris". Tourists then have the added advantage of fairly bright spotlights, which bring a certain amount of light to the very dark yet ominous African bush. In this darkness, some animals are out and about, while a few others are tucked away under a couple of meters of Mother Earth. The latter are referred to as "pigs", and while one is indeed a pig, the other is in fact ...a rat.
Strangely, these large rats are referred to as "Iron Pigs" in the Afrikaans language, which they are not. The word "iron" here refers to the fact that they are covered with very impressive spikes, or spines, called quills. Living in Africa among a plethora of predators, it is certainly essential to carry some form of defense, and the "Iron Pig", or porcupine, is a pin-cushion on steroids. It is in fact a giant 40kg rat with lethal hair and an equally lethal backward jump that will discourage any over-zealous predator. When attacked from behind, this well-armoured rat leaps backwards, and if the predator is positioned anywhere in the vicinity of the raised spines, it will feel as if it is headbutting a pin-cushion. The pain is auditory,and what follows is a complete and immediate loss of appetite. Predator retreats and the porcupine lumbers off to do whatever these large rats do to entertain themselves in the darkness of the African landscape
Why do we also hear of "Flat pigs"? In the Afrikaans language, warthog are referred to as "Vlakvark", or, more affectionately as "High Speed Bacon". These pigs are however fast asleep at this time of the night, and seldom meet with porcupines, as they retreat to burrows which are a meter or two underground.
Since guests frequently ask to see porcupines, we make a concerted effort to find them. One night recently we found a few "Iron pigs" as well as two warthogs. The warthogs had only surfaced when the rumbling of the Unimog disturbed them from the maternal belly of Mother Earth as we drove past their burrow. They exploded to the surface like anti-intercontinental ballistic missiles bursting from their underground silos. In such instances, startled guests naturally jerk away from the commotion, although at no time are they being threatened. The only threatening situation occurred when one of the warthogs, giving a great performance of speed and agility, nearly collided with a porcupine. A single flash of spines, and this " High Speed Bacon" dodged the offending "Mobile Pin-Cushion on Steroids', and then disappeared into the darkness. Needless to say, the following night when we returned to see whether we could locate the warthogs and their burrow, the combination of vehicles and porcupines had encouraged them to move to the burrow of an Aardvark, or "Earth Pig", at a safer distance from the road. Hopefully this will bring about an avoidance of potential encounters with Iron Pigs in the future.
Then, what about the "Pig Iron ", or "Vark Yster"?. Yes, there is a great deal of it in this Park. In fact, millions of tons of it, but fortunately the Park is protected by its World Heritage status, so it will never be mined from these sandy soils!
Hasta la vista,
The Knait Wrydah.