A harrowing reminder that wild animals are not pets

I just read this cautionary tale about a 30-year-old man, Austin Riley, who was attacked by a warthog named Waylon who at one point he had considered like family. The piece was written by Peter Holley and published in Texas Monthly last week. It's a great read, and another sobering reminder that wild animals are, well, wild animals. Wild animals are not pets.

The attack took place in October, 2022, on Riley's family ranch in the beautiful Hill Country of Texas. Prior to the attack, Riley had created a seemingly close bond with Waylon, a five-year-old warthog that he had raised since it was a newborn piglet. Riley is quoted in the article stating that, "For years, that animal trusted me everyday and I trusted him." He also explains, "I just kinda became his parent, his dad, really."

Holley's depiction of Riley and Waylon's relationship before the attack, and the harrowing description of the attack itself are a study in contrasts. First, the before:

 There was one animal that Austin poured more of himself into than any other: Waylon. Their bond formed on a cold December night in 2017, seconds after the tiny warthog took its first breath. The piglet's mother had died in labor, but Austin immediately assumed her place, cradling the hamster-size infant in one hand and a bottle of milk in the other. He moved the animal into his parents' home, creating a makeshift nursery out of a plastic container, hay, and baby blankets. Eventually, as the weather outside warmed, Austin built the warthog a small wooden house beside his parents' home, where the pig was able to spend his days gaining strength and roughhousing with the family's bulldog. Austin decided to name the rambunctious warthog as an homage to another unruly figure, outlaw country legend Waylon Jennings. 

Always eager for his owner's company, Waylon enjoyed following Austin around the family ranch and falling asleep on his chest after feedings. He loved red apples, rough belly scratches, and tender massages on his hardened, bony snout. 

At the time of the attack, Waylon was 250 pounds of muscle. Still, he appeared affectionate with Riley:

On particularly beautiful days, he liked to lie on the ground in the enclosure, listening to sports radio and watching the clouds pass by. Inevitably, Waylon would lie down beside him, gingerly resting his enormous, wart-covered head on Austin's thigh. They could remain that way for five or six hours at a time. 

That cuddly relationship didn't stop Waylon on that fateful October day from attacking Riley. Here's Holley's description of the attack:

Suddenly, his right leg crumpled behind him and he found himself tumbling forward, landing some fifteen feet away. As he gathered his bearings, Waylon's bulky, gray head emerged from a swirling cloud of dust near his feet. Before Austin could stand up and run, Waylon thrust his face between the rancher's lower legs and began violently swinging his tusks back and forth. One tusk stabbed Austin twice in the right calf and another stabbed him once in the left calf. His right leg was gashed from the knee to his upper thigh, an injury so wide Austin was later able to put his hand inside it. He remembers the sensation of cool air hitting warm muscle and the realization that blood was pouring out of his jeans and filling his boots.  . . . Before Austin could fight back, Waylon had hooked his owner four more times in the upper left leg and genitals. Several more stab wounds to his upper right leg followed in rapid succession. Reflexively, Austin attempted to gouge out the warthog's eyes, but was blocked by his bony facial armor. Instinctively, Austin grabbed onto Waylon's tusks, slicing open his wrist. After three more gashes in his abdomen, Austin attempted to put Waylon in a headlock. But the animal jerked upward, plunging his tusk into Austin's voice box, leaving a quarter-size hole in his neck from which a piece of an artery dangled like a grisly necklace. The blow knocked him onto his back, leaving his entire body exposed to the rampaging boar. "At that point, I just knew I couldn't let him hit my head or get on top of me," Austin said. "That's what I kept thinking."

Austin Riley, now 32, survived, but it was definitely touch and go—he lost half of his blood in the attack and Waylon's tusks came within millimeters of severing several arteries. It look ten surgeries to save his life the night of the attack, and in the time that has followed, Riley has undergone extensive physical and mental therapy to deal with all of the physical and emotional trauma that has accompanied being stabbed more than fifteen times by an animal that he believed was a friend. 

Sadly, Waylon didn't get a happy ending: 

The day after the attack, Austin's parents asked a family friend to execute Waylon. After the killing, Waylon's head was cut off and sent to a lab so he could be tested for rabies. The results came back negative. His slaughter was partly an act of revenge, but also an acknowledgment that the warthog could never be allowed around humans ever again. Shane and Gail deleted all photos of the animal from their phones. Unwilling to be in the presence of a warthog ever again, Austin had Waylon's pen mate, Peaches, relocated to another ranch. 

The article explains that warthogs have become popular on ranches in Texas, both as pets and as hunting targets. Holley explains that "for individual owners. . . they are low-maintenance exotic pets. . . Part of the animals' enduring appeal is that, despite their menacing appearance and deadly hardware, they typically display limited aggression toward humans." However, as Austin Riley's experience reveals, warthogs are wild animals, and there's always the chance that warthogs gonna warthog. If it isn't already clear, Tina Cloutier Barbour, associate vice president of animal care and welfare at the Dallas Zoo, provides this clear advice to author Peter Holley about whether someone should get a warthog for a pet: "Don't do it."

To read the entire excellent article, check it out in Texas Monthly.

Previously: Warning against letting wild animals in your house backfires due to cuteness of wild animal