The journey to piglets!
As you may have heard, on April 13, we had three warthog piglets born to Eleanor and Hamlet. To reach this point, there was a lot of planning and prep work. It all started back in April of 2020 when we lost Eleanor’s mom, Shirley, unexpectedly. We were left with just Eleanor and needed to plan for some type of companionship for her, as warthogs are not the best at living alone. We reached out to the Coordinator of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Warthog Species Survival Plan® (SSP) to find out if there was an individual available to move in with Eleanor. We received a recommendation from the SSP for Hamlet to move to Atlanta as a companion, and he also came along with a breeding recommendation with Eleanor.
So, mid-pandemic, the planning began to transport Hamlet from Texas to Georgia. It just so happened that two Zoo Atlanta teammates were traveling to Texas to transport other animals, so Hamlet was added to their pick-up plans. Hamlet arrived at Zoo Atlanta in mid-August and started his routine quarantine period with our Veterinary Team. He then moved into our behind-the-scenes indoor hoofstock area after clearing quarantine. His space there was next to Eleanor, so they could see each other, but we gave him time to settle in and become comfortable in his new space.
Next, we started the introduction process for Eleanor and Hamlet. We started with giving them “howdy” access with mesh fencing between them. This allowed them to see and smell each other before sharing the same space. This also gave the care team time to observe them, as well to see how they interacted with each other – for example, were they happy interactions or “give me more space” signals.
Hamlet was thrilled to see Eleanor and wanted to meet her right away, while Eleanor needed a little more time to warm up to Hamlet. We continued the howdy intros until Eleanor showed more affiliative behavior towards Hamlet. Once we started to see the affiliative behavior, we opened the shift gate between them so that they could share the same space while we closely observed them. They both did well, and we continued daytime introductions for about a week until they were ready to be together full-time.
By early October they were together full-time, and Hamlet did not waste any time, as we saw breeding behavior by the end of October. The warthog gestation period lasts between 152 and 185 days, so once we did not see any further breeding behavior between them, we suspected Eleanor was pregnant. We were able to perform a voluntary ultrasound on Eleanor in late February to confirm her pregnancy. At the time, we had to prepare the indoor area for Eleanor to have a space to give birth to her piglets. In the wild, warthogs will find a burrow dug by another animal and will take over the burrow to give birth in. These burrows stay very warm, as newborn piglets cannot regulate their temperatures for the first few days. We built Eleanor a snazzy birthing box with added heat so we could control the temperature for her and the piglets. We had cameras in the den and nest box that allowed us to observe Eleanor’s behavior without disturbing her.
On the morning of April 13, we started to see signs of Eleanor entering labor. She was restless, could not find a comfy spot, and had kicked Hamlet out of the den area. Over the next few hours, Eleanor gave birth to her three piglets. To make sure she had the space she needed to bond with her piglets, we separated Hamlet to another section of the building. Over the next few weeks, Eleanor and the piglets did quite well together, and Eleanor showed us how good of a mother she is. The piglets’ primary source of food is nursing from Eleanor, but they have started to eat her produce and grain as well.
Over the past week, Eleanor and the piglets have been spending more time in their outdoor habitat, and the next big milestone will be for them to be introduced to their dad, Hamlet, in the near future. Stop by the warthog habitat at the African Savanna to see if you can spot the warthog family that was a year in the making!
Lead Keeper, Hoofstock