Our record-keeping system recognizes the wild Suidae of the world, and one of our World Hunting Awards is the “Wild Pigs and Peccaries of the World.” This includes fully 15 currently huntable varieties, while our record-keeping system, aiming for completeness, includes data on animals not currently hunted, including such oddities as the babirusa and other Asian wild swine. I did a little self-inventory, and I must be a pretty good pig hunter; I have 13 of those 15 categories…along with a spare, the Philippine bearded warty pig (not hunted since the untimely passing of the only outfitter, Jay Carlson). Missing are the red river hog of Central and West Africa, which I’ve hunted desperately and failed at miserably; and a feral hog from Africa, found in a few places in South Africa.
For record-keeping, true wild pigs are recorded by tusk measurements, while the smaller peccaries are recorded by skull dimensions. These are irrefutable measurements and thus appropriate, but we “pig hunters” almost invariably talk about our pigs in terms of total live weight—and body size and tusk size don’t always match up. Hey, while a big-bodied mature boar is likely to have big teeth, here on the Central Coast some of the biggest tusks I’ve seen have come from older boars in poor body condition, likewise with warthogs and perhaps all the rest. Some of it is luck and dentition: Luck in living a full life without breaking a tusk, and an overbite that prevents upper and lower tusks from properly sharpening each other.
That’s not knocking a very appropriate record-keeping system. We pig hunters understand these things, but we still talk about pigs in terms of size. (And, often, we exaggerate a bit.) So, what’s the world’s biggest wild pig? It seems to me there are three candidates: Feral hogs, Eurasian wild boars and the giant forest hogs of Central Africa.
As for feral hogs, for sure our Central Coast hogs aren’t candidates. Conditions are simply too harsh because of periodic drought. Over the years, I’ve seen dozens of big boars weighed; the biggest I’ve laid eyes on tipped an honest scale at 385 pounds–a huge pig in our area. However, with better feed conditions feral hogs can get bigger. They are, after all, domestic pigs gone wild, with upper limits hard to define. A few years ago at our Mid-State Fair, I paid a buck to see a 1,000-pound hog. It was real, but I seriously doubt a pig fending for itself in the wild could ever approach that weight. The biggest feral hog I ever personally shot was in Argentina, a real giant, but for sure feral hogs get big with honest weights above a quarter ton possible in some areas.
The Eurasian wild boar, ancestor of our domestic and feral hogs, is another likely candidate for the biggest pig. With proper and year-’round food supplies, they can get huge. I hear about 600-pound boars, and although it sounds unlikely, I suppose that’s possible. The biggest boars I’ve ever seen were in Turkey, and if you think about it, that makes sense: Mediterranean climate, lots of agriculture and a primarily Muslim population that leaves them alone and lets them grow.
Then there’s the giant forest hog, one of the least-known wild swine—and one of the world’s last large mammals to be identified by scientists. Compared to other African pigs—the warthog, bushpig, red river hog and Barbary wild boar—the giant forest hog is truly a giant. However, unlike other members of the family, the giant forest hog is a tall, long-legged animal. Our SCI Record Book, always a good reference, suggests that a mature giant forest hog can stand 43 inches at the shoulder. I just checked: That’s way above my belt buckle. As for weight, the book says 400 to 600 pounds. This is our Record Book’s highest weight range for any wild hog, so the giant forest hog is solidly in the running to be the world’s largest pig. Both feral hogs and Eurasian wild boars are occasionally reported as being bigger but, according to new evidence discovered by my friends and longtime SCI leaders Dorothy and Lacy Harber, it appears that giant forest hogs can also get a lot bigger.
All pigs know where their teeth are and how to use them. Tusks are used for rooting and digging, and also for ripping and slashing. In species where females lack teeth, they attack low and bite, while pigs with tusks use them to rip upwards and sideways. All pigs will defend themselves when cornered, and unprovoked attacks have been reported all over the world and with all species. So, by definition, the “baddest” pig is any pig allowed to get close enough to use those tusks.
In another sense, however, “baddest” also means most difficult to hunt. Hands down, I give this honor to the giant forest hog! They are discontinuous and nomadic, and under most circumstances almost impossible to hunt on purpose. The red river hog, essentially a western version of the bushpig, shares most of the giant forest hog’s range. The red river hog is also difficult, but I think they are more numerous than giant forest hogs and occupy a wider range.
I was lucky. In 1996, hunting with Jacques Lemaux, we found a wet spot where giant forest hogs were wallowing. Jacques knew they would return until the mud dried up, so we kept checking and, a few days later, I shot a big boar. That was my first forest safari. Since then, I’ve done six more and, although I’ve seen a few tracks, I’ve never seen another giant forest hog. Mine was a big boar, tall and slab-sided. How heavy I have no clue, but it was the most imposing pig I’ve ever seen…and it was a piglet compared to giant, giant forest hogs recently taken in C.A.R. by Dorothy and Lacy Harber. Dorothy is a good writer and has written a number of pieces for SAFARI, but she was kind enough to share their story with me, an amazing saga that yielded the world’s biggest and baddest pigs.
HEART OF DARKNESS
In late May 2016, Dorothy and Lacy began a 21-day hunt with the redoubtable Alain Lefol in a new area in southeastern C.A.R., on the Vovodo River not far from the corner where South Sudan meets the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is a wild area of 3.5 million acres, never hunted, never developed and rarely visited by white people. New areas are tough; Byron and Sandra Sadler hunted there the year before and had little success, but without question, the area holds big bongo, savanna buffalo, a still-unknown selection of forest duikers…and a good population of giant forest hogs.
From Bangui it took 2.5 hours by a King Air twin-engine to reach Lefol’s airstrip, then a short half-hour drive to a Spartan but comfortable camp that would be home for the next 22 days. Well, sort of a home away from home. They spent 15 nights in extremely tall machans overlooking mineral licks in natural clearings, so as to be there early in the morning without making any disturbance or leaving any scent. With few hunting tracks, developed natural salt licks are a good option, made more so by the fact that Lacy, as usual, was bowhunting.
Considering all, by the midpoint of the hunt they’d done pretty well. Lacy had taken a Central African savanna buffalo, a harnessed bushbuck and a good giant forest hog with his bow, and Dorothy had taken a giant forest hog with a rifle. Two giant forest hogs on one safari? Maybe better than “pretty well!” Both were good boars. Based on length and girth, Lefol estimated them at no less than 450 and 475 pounds, big but within “normal” dimensions.
Life goes on. Dorothy’s birthday was celebrated in camp. They saw a couple of big cobras and an unidentified 12-foot forest lizard. It was dry when they arrived, but it rained all night the second night, and then rained periodically for the rest of the hunt–perfect conditions for forest game, but the midpoint of the hunt was reached and the bongos weren’t cooperating. A supply plane brought in a big load of salt, so Alain and his crew went out for two full days, salting natural licks as far as 50 miles from camp, places local hunters knew about, but no sport hunters had ever seen. Regular rain plus the additional salt made a huge difference, with more fresh tracks each day, but just a few days remained.
Tracks showed a bongo bull was frequenting a lick, so the plan was to go out and stay, but one of the trackers checked a remote area with a natural lick, a roundish clearing with a big, ancient tree trunk in the center. To get at the salt, animals had dug down around it exposing the roots and there were very large giant forest hog tracks. They built a very tall machan, Lacy figured 30 feet in the air reached by steps, and while they were building it, they saw a giant forest hog.
“There’s a giant forest hog there,” Alain Lefol told Lacy. “Two trackers have seen it and they say it looks like a hippo calf. The track is the size of a buffalo track.”
They went in with the camp cook, four staff and two little dogs, walking in about a mile and packing chairs. The small clearing was about a third the size of a football field with solid impenetrable forest all around. As is his habit, Lacy took both his Bowtech and Mathews bows into the blind, no rifle. It was nearly dark and they were all settled in, ready to go to sleep.
Alain grabbed Lacy’s leg and pointed down, whispering, “Giant forest hogs!” Lacy could see the dim outline of two hogs. Shooting down at 25 to 30 yards, he put his pin in the center of the shoulder of the largest hog and released.
Alain, watching with binoculars, said, “You hit him, I saw the front feet come off the ground, but I’m not sure where.”
It was almost full dark, so there was no choice but to wait until morning. They came back with six people. One dog was ill and died during the night, so six people with one dog, cut their way through the forest with machetes. Fifty yards in, Alain found half an arrow, the back part, with blood on the shaft, a good sign. After a short while he yelled, “We have blood, lots of blood.”
Then all six plus Alain started singing and clapping, and Lacy knew what that meant. Two came back to get him and it took 30 minutes to get through the thick growth to the animal. When he reached the pig he thought, “black angus cow.”
These are not trick photos. It’s a giant forest hog like no one has ever seen before, over eight feet nose to tail, massive in girth (and everything else). Field-dressed, six men couldn’t get it off the ground; it took eight men to carry it, and the head had to be tied to the pole to keep it from dragging on the ground. Exact live weight usually isn’t possible and certainly wasn’t there, but the estimate is over 700 pounds and the animal looks every bit of that! It took an hour and a half to get it 100 yards to the truck, and they came into camp singing and clapping with the hog hanging over the back of the truck on both sides. I have no idea where they’ll get a form big enough (maybe a small hippo?), but this giant of a giant forest hog will, in time, be life-size mounted in the Harbers’ wildlife museum in Sherman, Texas. Without question, it’s the biggest and baddest pig ever, and only time will tell if there are more like it.
A WORD ABOUT SAFETY
It must be acknowledged that C.A.R. has issues. Air France now runs just one flight a week to Bangui and will not carry firearms. On arrival UN troops were guarding the runway and provided security at the hotel. There are rebels in the hunting area, but they have left Lefol’s camp alone and UN officials visited the camp frequently while they were there. This writer certainly doesn’t warrant that the area or country is a hundred-percent safe, but Lacy and Dorothy, on their 56th African hunt together, had no problems and report they never felt in danger at all. In fact, they want to go back and, as these lines see the light of day, they are probably in C.A.R. once again. It seems that in January giant eland come down into the northern part of this area. We know the giant forest hogs and Goliath tiger fish are extra-large. We think, based on history in eastern C.A.R. and southwestern Sudan, the bongo are extra-large. The biggest giant eland have always come from C.A.R., and just maybe they’re extra-large in this area as well!–Craig Boddington with Dorothy and Lacy Harber