22 NOVEMBER 2003, Page 77

Piggy Wiggy to the rescue

Aidan Hartley


Ireturned to the farm alone after two months overseas to find the land as dry as a bone. We're crying out for the rains to come. While waiting for Claire and the kids to follow me up here I decided to give up alcohol and smoking until Christmas. I'm helped by the fact that it's a fair drive across the plains to the nearest cold Tusker. In the afternoon heat with the flies buzzing about. I lick my dry lips and think of bottles dripping with perspiration. On the drive to the cattle bomas I find myself singing Slim Dusty's 'The Pub With No Beer'. At night I have vivid, strange dreams and once I wake up I can't go back to sleep, so I sit listening to the wind or the lonesome hyena until dawn.

It's a tough time to give up the booze. I've got a lot of worries on my plate right now, what with being broke. And so there I was on the weekend, ear-notching the new calves and preoccupied by thoughts of ale and overdrafts, when up comes a cowboy holding a pig.

I've often thought that instead of writing about human dramas in Africa I should find me a beast, give it a cute name and write my own version of Born Free. It seems everybody around here has a pet giraffe or antelope of some kind. I had my eye on something more dramatic than an ungulate. I don't have the budget or peanut supply for an elephant. Instead I've been holding out for the orphaned cub of a lion, cheetah or leopard. Big cats equal big publisher advances. When no animals turned up, I thought perhaps I'd plump for a ground hornbill or some comical animal. My mother once knew an ibex in Arabia that ate cigarettes and slept in its owner's double bed. I draw the line at monkeys and mongooses. Monkeys bite and piss and mongooses have a habit of crawling under the bedcovers while you slumber and gnawing at your private parts.

I also don't want to be part of the illegal trade in wildlife. The other day a local Catholic missionary turned up and said would I like to buy an animal. 'No, but out of interest, what have you got?' He said, 'A wolf, an eagle and a duck.'

Well, in the end all I got was a piglet: to be exact, a newborn warthog. The cowherds found him lost in the long dry grass in the morning. Nobody knew what had happened to his mother. He was shivering with fright and when I picked him up he snapped his jaws together so that the buds of the tusks he will have one day if he lives clicked loudly. He looks just like the piglet in the film Babe, except that he's got bigger eyelashes, a straight tail that already sticks upwards and a coat of wiry hairs sprouting from his dark-grey hide.

I didn't know what to do. The dogs might eat Piggy Wiggy. Could we put him in him with the sheep? 'Lā€” has a buffalo that herds with his cows,' the farm manager observed. 'They sawed off its horns and it even goes in the dip.' Celestina nodded. 'If you put a bull on a buffalo it will crossbreed,' he said. 'That's balls,' I said. 'It's true,' he replied. 'At my home a dog made love to a pig and it produced a baby. I saw It.'

I'm apprehensive about Piggy Wiggy. A little-known fact is that in the past century more Europeans in Kenya have been gored to death by domestic swine than by lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes, snakes or hippopotami. Warthogs are wilder than pigs. A friend of mine had a female warthog. He named it Janis, as in the Sixties singer Janis Joplin ā€” he's got a dog called Hendrix. As Janis reached sow puberty she developed the habit of charging guests as soon as they set foot in the garden. She went low for the legs and bowled them over. Being charged by a warthog is like having Boadicea come at you in a chariot with knives on her wheels. I've seen a warthog slice a dog's belly open with its tusks. Eventually my friend had to do her in with a pistol. He calmed her down by sticking an apple in her mouth before he pulled the trigger.

So much for my hopes of a book contract in the high six figures. It's the way with everything in my life. Perhaps I can sell the story to Pig Breeder's Monthly. I'm going to have to buy a licence from the Kenya Wildlife Services next week if I am to keep Piggy Wiggy. It's a bit like owning a dog in England. But first we have to help him survive.