Recently, I had a delightful walk with our animal ambassador, Bubba, the African warthog. The job of an animal ambassador is to meet the public, providing an opportunity for guests to learn about the species. Many people have never seen a warthog up close. Bubba gives me a chance to point out his adaptations and inspire our guests. I often say he’s the most handsome guy you’ll find at the Safari Park who has both a handlebar mustache and a mullet! Bubba can often be seen at scheduled animal encounters at the Safari Park, but on other days he can be seen grazing on grass at The Grove, checking out Cheetah Run Safari, or strolling (accompanied, of course!) through Nairobi Village.
On this most recent jaunt with Bubba, as we were walking past the entrance of Benbough Amphitheater, a group of school kids spotted my four-legged partner and called out “Pumba! Hiiiiiii Pumba!” It doesn’t matter that they have the name wrong—that’s one of the most popular responses we get—they were so excited to see a character from The Lion King! Continuing on our way, Bubba and I walked past the photo kiosk and received a big greeting from Michael, the photographer. We smiled, waved, and continued on. The pathway opens up into Flightline Plaza. There’s a really neat “Hand-imal” station (they paint your hand, turning it into an animal). A little girl in a pink outfit who had just had her hand painted was there with her mom, and she started squealing “Look, look, look!” Bubba was within three feet of her when she turned to look at him, with a big grin on her face.
At the warthog statue in Nairobi Station, we encountered countless guests with expressions of wonder on their faces. A little girl, who had been running, stopped in her tracks with her little mouth in the shape of an “O”. A woman, whose kids were playing on the log between the Bat House and playground careened over to ask “What is that?” Bubba was properly introduced to our guests and we paused so people could take photos of him just mere feet away. As we left, I heard people talking to one another, saying “That’s so cool!” “Awesome!” One person yelled “Stellar!” We were making everyone happy!
The very last thing I heard from a guest was said while he slowly walked down the middle of the roadway, talking on his phone. He seemed to be alone and stopped to do a double take as we passed. “No way!” He exclaimed into his phone, “A warthog just walked right past me… On a leash!”
Come on out to the Safari Park to meet Bubba at an animal encounter, or just out strolling with his trainers—he’s a wonderful warthhog!
Kristyn Sargent is an animal trainer at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.