By Barbara Crown, Editor-in-Chief
In 2012 we told you that Jason Roussos of Ethiopian Rift Valley Safaris (ERVS) had discovered a long-unhunted area with several unique species that are not readily available elsewhere. (See Ethiopian Rift Valley Safaris Opens New Hunting Area in our online database.) It’s call Bahi and is in northeastern Ethiopia about 200 kilometers east of Addis Ababa. It was to be the first hunting concession ever opened in the Somali Region of the country. Roussos’ North American representative at that time, Rich Elliot, had expected to have the first tourist hunters there within a couple of months. But finalizing things for access took much longer than originally expected. A lot longer, as the first safaris only now took place.
In May 2018 we heard from Roussos about their successful opening of the area and the very first safaris there ever. According to Roussos, the Somali Region of Ethiopia (equivalent to a state in the US) has never had hunting, so it was a long process to get all the correct procedures, permitting, etc. worked out. “Might as well have opened a new country to hunting!” says Roussos. “In the seven-year process, we got the area demarcated and a quota issued twice; regardless, the bureaucracy in the Somali Region trumped us. The Somalis are very protective of their wildlife (which is a wonderful thing because there is zero poaching), so we had to make sure we went about it all the correct ways, before staring operations, not only with the regional government, but also traditionally with local clan elders, etc. We got it done in the end. A massive effort but worth it.
“Bahi is an incredible place with incredible wildlife. We’re going to rewrite the record book there! I just got done with a great hunt with Eduardo Negrete (my first hunt there). On the very last afternoon we shot a new species that I’m sure 99% of hunters don’t know about. Will fill you in more when Eduardo submits his report.”
A new species? Anxious to know more, we went back to the report from Elliott. He had highlighted several interesting species when we spoke with him in 2012. Those included the Somali ostrich, whose grey-blue legs become bright blue during the mating season; the Harar dik-dik, which hadn’t been hunted since the early 1990s and has only 18 total entries in the SCI record book now. And the northern gerenuk, which is reportedly huntable only in Ethiopia and is available in only one other hunting concession. And then, there was the desert warthog.
About a week after Rousssos’ email, Negrete filed his report with photos of what may indeed rewrite the record books. In an email Negrete writes, “I just had a safari with Jason Roussos of ERVS in their new concession called Bahi, in the Somali Region of eastern Ethiopia. Jason found the area seven years ago and told me about it then, but it has taken this long to open it up to hunting.
“The first hunt was in April and I was the third hunter in, and the first hunt conducted by Jason. The area is incredible! It is always special when an area is this new and virgin. We saw some species that we didn’t know still existed in Ethiopia, such as Isabelline gazelle, and it was a real treat to see a huge striped hyena in broad daylight one morning. We hunted for four days total. Since we knew the trophy potential, Jason took the first day to study the area, and we saw some great animals that were incredible. But Jason thought we could find bigger; in the end he was right.
“We hunted for northern gerenuk, Soemmerring gazelle, Harar dik dik, golden jackal, and the cherry on the cake, the desert warthog. Jason believed the warthogs found in the area were this species, but one had not been taken yet to verify his belief.
“We were there from May 11 to May 15. I have never seen so many gerenuk and dik-dik in any area, the population is just unbelievable. We also saw lesser kudu.
“The first trophy of the hunt was the golden jackal in late afternoon on May 12. On the morning hunt of May 13 we found a huge Soemmerring gazelle that we could not pass on. Later that day in the afternoon, we got the Harar dik-dik. On the last hunting day, May 14, we got a monster northern gerenuk early in the morning (all three northern gerenuk taken in Bahi to date have ranked in the SCI top five), so we had the rest of the day to concentrate on the last and the most intriguing trophy of the safari, the desert warthog.
“Because of a terrible drought in 2016 and 2017 (2018 on the other had saw torrential rains in April) we had seen none, but we heard from the locals of a hot springs area where the warthog had survived the drought and were still seen regularly. So, that is where we headed.
“This place is an Eden, full of life. But also, in the middle of the day, it is full of camels and locals who journey from far away to heal themselves with the thermal waters.
“The last evening right before sunset, when all the herds of people and camels had left, we set up on ridges to cover as much ground as possible glassing the green meadows around the array of hot springs in the area. Sure enough, once everything was quiet, the warthogs came to enjoy the place. We first spotted two females with two young ones. Around 5:45 pm, Jason noticed another warthog coming into the river bed about 500 yards away. He checked it with his spotting scope and confirmed this one was the boar we had been waiting for. Very excited, we came down from the ridge and walked across the river to find the best spot to stalk him.
“We got to 125 yards from him and shot him just as he was getting nervous. It was finally time to verify what type of a warthog it was. We could not contain our excitement as this warthog met all the criteria of a desert warthog: no incisor teeth on the top or bottom of the mouth, crooked warts, and ear tips that fold backwards. The desert warthog is scientifically recognized (zoologist Jonathan Kingdon, author of several African field guides) as a different species of warthog than the common warthog (now classified as Phacochoerus africanus). Not a subspecies, the desert warthog (Phacochoerus aethiopicus) is classified separately because it is anatomically different. Our boar was ancient, with back molars worn to the gums, but his body size was about one third the size of the common warthog boars I shot with Jason in his mountain nyala area a few years back. It was the best ending to an incredible safari. I am sure there will be a lot of records harvested in this area as it is an incredible one.”
We looked up the desert warthog, and it is recognized by the IUCN and listed as a species of least concern. The only surviving relative of the Cape warthog (extinct in the 1870s), desert warthog was only recently recognized as a distinct species from the common warthog with mitochondrial DNA analysis confirming that they are different and divergent. Their lineages are distinct, diverging about 4.5 million years ago. It has not yet been recognized in the Safari Club International record book, so Roussos is probably right about rewriting the record books on warthogs.
Also called the Somali warthog, the desert warthog ranges from east of the Eastern Rift Valley in the Horn of Africa and Kenya. Although it is suspected to exist throughout Somalia, current evidence is for its occurrence in north and south Somalia, southeast and south Ethiopia, and central, east, southeast and extreme northern Kenya. The desert warthog has three distinct physical features that separate it from the common warthog. The tips of its ears distinctively curl backward. Also, its warts are hooked, and they have prominent bumps under the eyes. You can read more about this species and see photos comparing it and the common warthog online at http://safaritalk.net/topic/10570-desert-warthog-phacochoerus-aethiopicus-delamerei/.
Rousso says he is booked until late 2020 with the quota they currently have. “We only have one desert warthog a year,” he says, “but hopefully, after building some new roads and doing other work, we’ll get a big quota increase the next count in 2019.” Interested hunters should contact Roussos at email@example.com. If you hunt the Bahi concession, or think you have taken a desert warthog elsewhere, please send us a report and some photos.