This is a love story, albeit one that did not exactly begin “at first sight.” I’m not sure when Philip (full name: “Sir Philip Pigglesworth III”) arrived at the Toronto Zoo; I believe he was already on site when I started Volunteer training in the fall of 2012 and the first record I can find of him in our semi-regular issues of the daily Keeper Notes is on May 17, 2014 when he was being trained to step on the scale. From those same notes, I can tell you that Tisa’s first day in exhibit holding after being released from quarantine was August 7, 2015. (Quarantine of at least 30 days is mandatory for any animal that has been transferred in from any other facility.) She was given access to the outdoor enclosure (alone) for the first time on the 31st of that same month. (Fun fact: Tisa was born exactly one day before Philip, on April 1, 2011!)
In mid-September, they were introduced to each other on exhibit and it all went well… at first. A couple of weeks later, at the beginning of October, Philip suddenly began to show aggression toward Tisa and she sustained a couple of minor cuts. They were separated for s short time and then reintroduced, but every time they looked to be getting along, Philip would become aggressive and charge at Tisa. After a few more attempts at putting them together, the Keepers reluctantly shelved the plans for the short term and let them go out on exhibit alone for a few months. The next summer, in August of 2016, they were put back in the outdoor exhibit together again. This time, it was Tisa’s turn to show displeasure: Philip had no aggression towards her but she would snort at him and move away every time he got close. This quickly escalated into Tisa regularly jumping through or over the hotwire at the back of the exhibit, having to be coaxed back onto the “right” side over and over again. Eventually, the two were separated again and I can’t tell from the notes if they were put back together at any point for the rest of 2016 or all of 2017.
But then it was 2018 and a lot of water had passed under the bridge. Each had been assertive in their own way; time was passing by quickly and Tisa’s biological clock was ticking. So the incredibly patient Keepers tried, once again, to put them together. And that’s when the magic happened. At the very end of May, Philip and Tisa were “re-re-re-introduced” to each other and they began to breed the very same day. They bred again the next day, too; and when they went out on exhibit together on Day Three Tisa had had enough of Philip’s advances, but no problem: they just lay down a few feet apart, rooting and nibbling on whatever they dug up. To the best of my knowledge, they never again needed to be split up for any length of time, and I can remember quite clearly seeing them together outside that summer and marvelling at just how cuddly they seemed with each other, especially after all the angst of previous years. They bred a few more times unsuccessfully – although there was some suspicion in the fall that Tisa was pregnant, which was unfounded – until (apparently) sometime around Thanksgiving (Canadian) or so. They were probably spending their days on the inside exhibit by this time; perhaps that was just more comfortable for them. But for whatever reason, something finally “clicked” for them.
On February 17, 2019 (which I had no trouble remembering as it was the third birthday for Nandu), Tisa gave birth to her first litter of l̶i̶t̶t̶l̶e̶ ̶s̶t̶r̶i̶p̶e̶d̶ ̶b̶a̶k̶e̶d̶ ̶p̶o̶t̶a̶t̶o̶e̶s̶ ̶w̶i̶t̶h̶ ̶l̶e̶g̶s̶ two tiny female hoglets. They made their first public appearance just under three weeks later, on March 8; incredibly. even though I have taken, quite literally, thousands of photos of them since then, the one I used for this month’s calendar feature was taken in the very first moments that I ever set eyes on these gorgeous little creatures. I returned to see them once or twice (Narrator: every second day, approximately) for the rest of March and early April; I saw them myriad more times throughout the summer, too. Those adorable stripes fade away very quickly, and there weren’t a lot of other babies to visit until the wolf cubs arrived in May. I’ll post a collage of shots at the end, and I already know trying to keep that gallery reasonably small in size is going to be the single most difficult thing about this month’s post. Seriously, hoglets are just about the most adorable babies in the animal kingdom, and I will fight you on that opinion!
When the babies first came out to play with us, they had only Tisa to accompany them. Within a week, however, Philip joined his new family and quickly showed that he was an amazing and patient daddy (check out the photo at left). Then, on March 29, after a brief naming contest, the Zoo settled on “Hazel” and “Ginger” as the names for the two little girls. This contest was notable in that it was the very first time a name or names that I had voted for had ever been chosen by the Zoo, so naturally I was very excited. I learned very quickly from the Keepers that Ginger was the name given to the lighter-coloured of the two; as they lost their stripes and became much closer in hue I kept a close eye on the ridge of fur on their backs and, to this point, at least, Ginger has the more-pronounced tuft of white fur along her spine. When they reach full size, I imagine it will be a lot tougher to tell them apart from each other – and from their mom – so we’ll see how long I can manage it. For now, coming up on their first birthday, it’s still relatively easy to know which is which.
Here are a couple of YouTube videos I uploaded of the girls: one from the first day I saw them and one from the outside exhibit in the summer, when they had a case of the zoomies.
But wait. There’s more.
On November 4, 2019 – before Hazel and Ginger were ever nine months old – Tisa gave birth to another litter of two babies. Red river hogs have a gestation of ~ 4 months, meaning Tisa was already halfway there in the second video above! I had watched them cuddle and snuggle away from the girls quite often during the summer, especially as Tisa weaned them off the teats, but I had no idea they had also been “canoodling!” In any event, the announcement came as quite a surprise to me and I was very excited to once again see a couple of l̶i̶t̶t̶l̶e̶ ̶s̶t̶r̶i̶p̶e̶d̶ ̶b̶a̶k̶e̶d̶ ̶p̶o̶t̶a̶t̶o̶e̶s̶ ̶w̶i̶t̶h̶ ̶l̶e̶g̶s̶ tiny hoglets in the exhibit. The first week or so that they were out of the back room, the area around the exhibit was off-limits to the public so I had to stand patiently at the top of the stairs beside the pygmy hippos and grab a couple of long shots when they popped briefly into view. The photo here was taken on the first day they were out; when I went home to look at it enlarged on the computer, I immediately noticed something different about these two babies from the shots I had taken of Hazel and Ginger when they were brand-new. Can you spot it? Look closely just below their eyes at the top of their muzzles. (You might have to click on the photo and zoom in.) See the tiny bumps there on each of them? Their two sisters didn’t (and won’t) have those bumps, but Philip does. That’s right: these two are boys! it was pretty exciting to work that out from just the first picture I took.
I saw them from a distance a couple of times and then it was time for me to get up close and personal. At a day shy of five weeks old, the boys came out into an exhibit that no longer had barriers around the walkways leading up to it, and I made sure to be there. The very first hog I saw was this proud parent:
Shortly after that, Tisa led out her newest brood:
I stood and watched them for a while, happily snapping away, when all of a sudden I spied something out of the corner of my eye:
What’s this? Another red river hog arriving on the scene? All six of the family members were going to be living together?? Well, apparently yes: these animals live in large family groups and it was not unusual at all to see the children of different ages getting along with each other, helping the family find cohesion:
Here is one last video of the whole family together, taken that first day (the first scene you see is Ginger playing with her two brothers):
They’ve been getting along famously ever since. Sometimes the boys play together; sometimes they play with their mom or dad; sometimes they play with their sister(s) with no ill effects. And don’t forget their sisters are not exactly adults yet; sometimes they like to approach mom or dad for some extra nuzzles of their own. And in case all of this isn’t adorable enough already: I’ve heard that Tisa and Philip have been breeding again. The way things have been going the past couple of weeks, this could turn out to be a very interesting spring at the Toronto Zoo – and that’s not even including the arrival of the walruses, whenever that turns out to be.
Oh, there’s just one more thing:
The “Howdy Door” between their exhibit and the pygmy hippos next door has been open most (if not all) of the time, so all six of them have gotten to know Kindia and Penelope quite well. Which is just heart-meltingly cute to watch.
Ok, that’s it for this month – unless the boys get names very early in February, in which case I will edit this post and let everyone know. Next month: a long-time resident of the Toronto Zoo who, while not exactly reclusive, is rather hard to spot unless you are specifically looking for him. Please come on back for that, one day later than normal… because 2020 is a Leap Year! And, as always, thanks for reading. Here are the promised shots of the hog family.