Changing Planet

Exclusive Video: World’s Biggest Pig Revealed

Meet the giant forest hog, which at up to 600 pounds (275 kilograms) brings home the record-setting bacon as the world’s biggest pig.

Despite its imposing size, there’s relatively little known about the African species, a bristly black animal with prominent cheeks and sharp tusks. In fact, the hog was only scientifically described in 1904—making it one of the last big mammals to be identified on the continent.

Enter Rafael Reyna-Hurtado, a National Geographic explorer and wildlife ecologist who’s been studying the seven-foot-long (two-meter-long) beast in Uganda‘s Kibale National Park. Occasionally individuals in other pig species, especially domesticated ones, can grow larger than the giant forest hog, but as a species it’s the biggest overall.

Giant forest hogs live across much of central Africa, though the western population is smaller from the eastern pigs, which are much beefier. (See National Geographic’s best wildlife pictures.)

Kibale National ParkReyna-Hurtado, who focuses on the eastern giants, is shedding new light on giant forest hog mysteries, like how far they roam, what they eat, how they interact with each other, and most of all, how they’ve managed to live such a secretive existence.

“It’s an amazing species, and very few people see them given that they are a relatively large animal,” said Reyna-Hurtado, of El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, a research center in Mexico.

Yet giant forest hogs haven’t managed to avoid us entirely. People are hunting the pig for food more than ever before, and the East African populations have been “decreasing at alarming rates” over the past three decades, according to Reyna—making studying them more crucial than ever.

“We can’t afford to lose this species,” he said.

Big and Beautiful

There are 18 wild pig species living today around the world, from the pygmy hog to the wild boar, but most remain poorly studied. For instance, very few scientists have looked at the giant forest hog, and most of that research was done in the 1970s to 1990s and published in French and German.

“The reasons for that are unclear, but maybe pigs are not considered cool enough,” Erik Meijaard, chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Pig Specialist Group, said by email.

“Of course, we entirely disagree. Wild pigs are not just beautiful, they are very important ecosystem engineers, and a major source of wild protein to many communities in Asia and Africa.”

For instance, giant forest hogs keep disperse plant species, and their activities often redistribute and aerate soil.

pig graphic

They’re also crafty. Despite tracking a group of giant forest hogs on two expeditions, Reyna never got close enough to dart an animal so he could put a radio collar on it—the animals were always a step ahead, during one occasion making agitated, hippo-like snorts and grunts. (Watch “How to Catch a Hog” on the National Geographic Channel.)

However, Reyna and colleague Alex Tumukunde, a Ugandan Ph.D. student, made some meaningful observations about the animals. For instance, they mapped a giant forest hog’s home range, which averages about 3.8 square miles (10 square kilometers).

The team also found that Ugandan giant forest hogs prefer living in areas with both dense thickets and open areas with sparse trees. The animals eat grasses in the clearings and rest in the refuge of the brush, where they clear the ground of leaves and sleep on the bare ground—”beds” that they’ll return to repeatedly.

Previous research has shown that the hogs use a well-worn network of trails that connect their grazing meadows, water holes, wallows, salt licks, and more, and that the pigs even use “communal latrines,” forming dung heaps along the trails, according to the Handbook of the Mammals of the World, Vol. 2.

Thanks in part to remote-triggered camera traps, the scientists noted that groups consisted of between 8 to 12 animals, including a dominant male and a female with piglets. (See the best camera-trap pictures of 2012.)

Snares were more of an unwelcome discovery. The scientists came across traps set by hunters, and a local patrol discovered 59 snares in just four days—set to capture not only forest hogs but other species such as bushbuck, according to Reyna.

Adaptable Pig

The team’s recent findings fit with those of Jean-Pierre d’Huart, who conducted one of the first studies of the species in the 1970s in the Democratic Republic of the Congo‘s Virunga National Park.

giant forest hog picture
A giant forest hog rests in Kibale National Park. The large cheeks may protect the animal’s eyes as it moves through dense brush. Photograph courtesy Rafael Reyna-Hurtado

Before the era of camera traps and GPS collars, he was “good ol’ Crocodile Dundee running around the savanna, looking with binoculars at groups of giant forest hogs,” said d’Huart, now head of the Belgium-based Conservation Consultancy Services.

Over time some of the hogs mostly tolerated his presence, but “at times, they can be very dangerous animals, as females would charge to protect their piglets and males will attack people to defend their families,” he said.

“Once or twice I was the victim of a charge. Wounds can be very nasty—when they really want to hurt you, they open the mouth and inflict wounds with their lower tusks, [which are] extremely sharp, like a knife.”

During his research, d’Huart became fascinated by the animals because of their ability to adjust their diet and lifestyle to meet whatever conditions they find themselves in.

For example, not only can the hogs thrive in a variety of habitats, but they are also omnivores, munching on everything from grass to bark to worms to fruits to insects to eggs, he said. (Piglets are reportedly fond of fresh elephant dung.)

What’s more, the hogs can switch their sleeping schedules if the need arises—for instance, night-active giant forest hogs in the Congo’s North Kivu region became daytime dwellers when Virunga National Park was protected from hunters, d’Huart said.

This extreme adaptability “may also explain why a species [that’s] not very difficult to trap and hunt has not disappeared … They always find a way of surviving.”

“Real Tragedy”

That is, to a point—severe, nonstop hunting could locally wipe out some populations, d’Huart cautioned.

One problem is that hunters can easily figure out the pigs’ well-established trails, which crisscross relatively small areas.

Since most of the pigs are hunted locally for food, they’re not part of the illegal wildlife trade, Reyna-Hurtado noted. One solution may be to inform local people that the giant forest hog is on the decline in Uganda, and work with them to find other sources of protein, such as chicken.

“We need to develop economic alternatives that allow people to raise animals for meat without depending on wildlife,” Reyna-Hurtado said.

Overall, Meijaard noted, Reyna-Hurtado’s work “provides valuable insights” for predicting future populations of giant forest hogs, as well as what people should do to save them.

“It would be a real tragedy if the species or significant populations of the species became extinct.”

Follow Christine Dell’Amore on Twitter and Google+.

Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.
  • mar

    sería bueno que venga con la opcion de traduccion en latino, please!!!

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      You can always try putting this page into Google Translate, Marta!

      Siempre se puede intentar poner esta página en Google Translate, Marta!

  • kathryn tominey

    Sounds as if they need to capture a couple of families and put them in natural zoo settings to preserve thm. Perhaps embryos can be frozen & emplanted n domestic pigs to increase #s.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Good idea, Kathryn.

  • Bart

    Flash?! My devices do not support Flash. I can’t watch your videos.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks Bart. National Geographic is aware of the problems with video on some devices on our site and we are working to upgrade our many video players so they are compatible on all devices.

  • Boonhound

    That’s one beautiful pig. I love it! X3

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      I agree Boonhound! I’m a fan of the underdog, and I hope this will inspire more people to appreciate pigs.

  • kay

    there is something beautiful in all that ugliness. what a pig.. pooor darling. beautiful photo and informative article

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks Kay! I agree there’s something beautiful in all that ugliness. 🙂

  • Freta

    My friend will love this thanks you so much

  • alisha

    mmmm bacon!!

  • Jack Regan

    Fantastic animal! Can you imagine stumbling across a couple of these guys in the jungle? I’ve seen some monsters in Florida that I at first mistook for black bears, but nothing this big.
    Jack, Northwest Wildlife Online

  • Maitai

    Woo ow.. that’s fascinating..I’ve never seen a forest hog, are they facing extinction cos we need to protect them.
    Being in the wild and nature fascinates me.

  • Allen Alexander

    “They’re also crafty”
    As someone who used to raise hogs; I can attest to this. I raised Hampshire (black with a white stripe) hogs. My boar, Buddy Holly,who I raised from a six week old 10 pound suckling, passed away at fifteen years of age and weighed in excess of a thousand pounds. He was as gentle as a kitten, I have seen him kissing his babies who no bigger than your hand would wander through his feed. I would scratch his back with a garden rake and he would lean into it to show me where it itched. And as for the ‘communal latrine’, yes. People think pigs smell bad, but mine didn’t, they had a huge area on a sandy hill for their pens, and they would all go in one spot. When the sows would have their litters, they would nest, much like a bird. They would break up the yaupon bushes and line it with hay.
    I was given a Vietnamese Pot belly female and she got pregnant by a three month old son of Buddy’s. I swear it was an accident! But her litter, wow, if I thought normal pigs were smart; this bunch were incredible. Their mother would grunt and they would disappear, she would do a double grunt and they would come back. And their appearance was something else; black with red stripes along the body.
    I could go on, but all I will say is don’t call an animal dumb, they know all they need to know to survive and then some.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks for sharing these stories, Allen. I’m surprised a male pig could get another pregnant at three months old!

  • Bobe Lusak

    Tell an 800 lbs. “pig” in the Georgia backcountry that he’s not wild. Once again, new-age information controllers are misinforming.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      New-age information controllers is a new one, will have to add that to my resume! Joking aside, Bobe, I anticipated your question, and that’s why I said in the story: “Occasionally individuals in other pig species, especially domesticated ones, can grow larger than the giant forest hog, but as a species it’s the biggest overall.” So yes, the wild pigs in the southern U.S. can get massive, but they’re relatively rare, and not representative of most of their species in size. The giant forest hog, on the other hand, is on average the biggest pig in the world. Hope that clears it up for you! Best, Christine

  • Ragner Rannat

    Amazing! Thanks alot for this lovely article. It suprises me how big can wild pigs get.. and cute aswell haha!

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      You’re welcome!

  • ed packard


  • Terri

    Great article! Thank you so much for the video, too. I think the giant forest hogs are just amazing, and I had no idea they even existed until this article.

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks! I agree, they’re pretty cool.

  • Terri

    And thank you Allen Alexander for sharing about your beloved boar, Buddy Holly. 🙂

  • Eyeace

    I love it. Just hope some moron doesn’t try to claim it as a mantle piece.

  • aland

    its a very big pig but in my country is it bigger than that

  • shay

    that was really great and alsome ive never seen a forest hog that was very intresting but thanks for your information…,

  • mukasa martin

    I the field assitant of Giant forest hogs Kibale National park .I am extra ordinary happy to see this article because the information is what we have been observing the field practically

    • Christine Dell’Amore

      Thanks so much for your comment Mukasa. Can you let me know if there’s any more news about giant forest hogs? My email is Best Christine

  • Nahele

    Feral pigs in Hawai’i have already destroyed huge areas of fragile native habitat and threaten the extinction of additional species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. Please remind your readers that the environmental benefits of swine are geospecific.

  • Shannon Sellers

    The largest Pigs I have ever seen were near the “rock pile” in Viet Nam….Had to be larger than 800 lbs and stood about 4 feet at the shoulder…..massive things.

  • Jaime A Pretell

    Because Wild Hogs mixed in with feral pigs in the US there are huge wild hogs here. THe biggest one killed in Alalbama was over 1,000 lbs

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