Almost everyone who goes on an African safari shouts out Pumbaa from the vehicle. So if you were wondering what The Lion King warthog’s name was, you have your answer.

But many people ask the question, “what does Pumbaa mean?” It’s a very interesting name after all. Keep reading to find out the Pumbaa meaning, and why it was chosen for this omnivore in The Lion King.

The animated movie was so successful that it transplanted a fictional name onto one of Africa’s oldest species. Even people from South Africa and Tanzania call this tusked pig a Pumbaa!

So what’s the story? What is the Pumbaa name meaning? And did Disney really change the name of an animal? Because the Pumbaa warthog will forever be etched into the memory of Disney fans.

Most Lion King Names Are Based on Swahili Words

Male lion resting on a rock. Reminds us of The Lion King.

Many of the names and phrases in The Lion King have a direct Swahili translation. It must have been easy for the scriptwriters. Instead of making up names, they could borrow everything from native Swahili.

  • Simba means lion (quite appropriate).
  • Nala, Simba’s childhood friend and future wife, means gift.
  • Rafiki means friend.
  • Sarabi, the queen of Pride Land, means mirage, which is very apt given how she fools Scar.
  • Shenzi, the sassy leader of the hyena clan who sounds like Whoopi Goldberg, means savage in Swahili.

After they had exhausted Swahili, the scriptwriters scoured other African languages. Mufasa translates to king in Manazoto.

Visit Africa and the only people saying hakuna matata will be hawkers trying to sell you something, such as a taxi ride, bracelet, or safari. So what is the hakuna matata meaning? Hakuna matata really does mean “no worries”, but it is a very old Swahili phrase that is no longer used (except with tourists).

The modern equivalent is hakuna shida. If you want to instantly reduce the price of a taxi ride or bracelet, reply to hakuna matata with hakuna shida.

What is Warthog in Swahili?

Two warthogs in Moremi, Botswana

Warthog Pumbaa was such an iconic character in The Lion King, that you could easily assume that Pumbaa means warthog. But that isn’t the case. Pumbaa doesn’t mean warthog at all.

Pumbaa actually has a very complex meaning: “to be absentminded, careless, foolish, ignorant, lazy, stupid and negligent.” That is a lot of adjectives for just one word and character!

The Swahili word for warthog is “ngiri”. However, many Tanzanians and Kenyans traditionally use Pumbaa to describe a warthog. And this has nothing to do with The Lion King.

Warthogs regularly come into contact with villages and people. When this happens, they usually cause havoc, scampering through a garden or village and making a mess of everything.

Warthog near a lodge in Botswana

Shout or chase a warthog and it makes even more of a mess. These animals leave their dirty hoof-prints all over and then run off into the distance. They are foolish, ignorant, negligent and stupid. In one word – Pumbaa!

So for many Swahili speakers, warthogs have always been called Pumbaa. The Lion King scriptwriters simply borrowed a popular turn of phrase to create the name for one of Disney’s most loved characters.

Fortunately, the scriptwriters took some more advice when they visited Africa. The Lion King was going to be called The King of the Jungle until Disney actually visited the continent. They found out that lions live in just about every habitat, except the African jungle!

Pumbaa also remains a common word used by gossiping women to describe their husbands. “Pumbaa kazi” is the phrase more commonly used for husbands. It means to take it easy and amuse oneself.

More About the Pumbaa Animal

Warthogs are smarter than they look. For starters, pumbaas are still wild, whereas other pigs have been domesticated and are now bred purely for their meat. And just watch how these warthogs fool a lion pride.

It appears there is no way out as the lionesses have discovered the burrow. Then Pumbaa makes a run for it and gets away!

Warthog wasn’t on the menu for dinner that day, but lions eat a multitude of other animals too, so they likely didn’t go hungry.

Warthogs are the only one of the pig species that have adapted to surviving in the wilderness. They have an omnivorous diet and change their eating habits depending on the season.

Their food includes insects, bark, grass, roots, bulbs, carrion, berries, fruits, and eggs. Sometimes they visit villages and steal eggs, using their impressive tusks to scare away chickens.

Pumbaas live in groups called sounders. Why sounders? We really don’t know but you can see this article for more interesting and unusual collective nouns for animals.

Most sounders consist of females and their young. Males only join them during the breeding season and the boars will fight aggressively for mating rights.

Warthog family in Moremi Game Reserve

When pumbaa piglets are born they are weak and vulnerable prey to everything from serval cats to African eagles and lions.

Not many piglets make it to adulthood. However, rather than being negligent and absentminded, warthogs will become foster mothers to other piglets. They demonstrate allosucking, meaning the piglets suckle from females that are not their mothers.

There is one Pumbaa adjective that is correct. They can be lazy. Rather than digging their own burrows, they will often just use the burrowed home of other animals. Still, is that being lazy, or being smart and conserving energy?

What Animal is Pumbaa on Safari?

Running warthog with tail upright

Of course, a Pumbaa is a warthog. But should you be calling it a Pumbaa on safari? Probably not. While Disney did a great job of making The Lion King, it doesn’t pay respect to the way Africa really is.

So maybe we shouldn’t be shouting out Pumbaa on a safari, or listening to what Disney thinks of Africa. They almost named a multibillion-dollar movie on something that is a complete myth!

While The Lion King gives people a small taste of Africa, a safari allows people to experience Africa at its finest. And let’s be honest, there are some strange animals out there in the wild, but none quite as strange as the way Pumbaa is portrayed in the Disney classic.

Thus let’s not go around calling warthogs “Pumbaa”, let’s leave that for the locals to do.

Pumbaa – The Warthog From Lion King

Let’s give Pumbaa some slack. Warthogs have terrible eyesight so they can’t really help themselves when making a mess. Plus, IQ tests show that the sus genus that includes all pigs, is smarter than the canidae dog family.

And really, animals that talk! There is a very real Africa out there, and it’s not like The Lion King.

So next time you choose to watch that famous movie, think about going on an African safari as well. Somewhere that you can experience the true sights and sounds of Africa.