Wildlife Trekker
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Wildlife Trekker

Javelina

Walking through the neighborhood late one night, while walking past a house decorated with several buddha statues. My nostrils picked up a strong and feral scent. I heard rustling and snorting sounds. Suddenly one of the buddhas burst across the yard. Several other buddhas followed. I realized the yard full of buddhas had been visited by a herd of javelina. I chuckled to myself, javelina and buddhas are both potbellied creatures, and I could hardly be blamed for mistaking one for the other in the dark.

Javelina look like pigs but are not. They are their own separate species known as peccaries. One of the visible differences between pigs and peccaries are the teeth. Pigs have tusks which curve and peccaries have tusks which hang straight down like miniature walrus tusks or stout vampire fangs. Javelina arrived in North America as part of the Great American Biotic Interchange. When plate tectonics caused North and South America to collide and created the Panama isthmus a wide variety of animals migrated into new continents. North America gained javelina and armadillo while South America acquired big cats such as jaguars and mountain lions. Javelina arrived in North America about three million years ago.

When anglo settlers first began arriving in what is now the southwestern United States they reported seeing herds of javelina numbering in the thousands. Many a hunter climbed a tree and waited, sometimes for hours, for the herd to disperse, before they dared to climb down. The original name of the Gila River was the Puerco River because of the legendary size of the large herds which ran through the region. A herd of javelina is known as a squadron.

It is not uncommon to see a squadron of javelina on the edge of the city or even meandering through neighborhoods, hooves clacking on pavement. I often catch them going in or out of drainage culverts. Javelina terrorize both gardens and garbage cans, discovering the living is fat and easy on the edge of civilization. In some regions the densest populations of javelina are on the edges of rural suburbia and not the middle of the wilderness.

Javelina average 3 to 4 ½ feet long (90 to 130 cm) and 45 to 90 pounds (20 to 40 kg). The herds of javelina I see are nowhere near as big as those described by the early pioneers. The largest squadrons I see number in the teens.

Javelina are herbivores (plant eaters) and frugivores (fruit eaters). They dine upon a wide variety of fruit, tubers, rhizomes, prickly pear shoots, acorns, mesquite beans and more. Javelina are opportunistic eaters and have even been known to scavenge a little carrion here and there. The javelinas have scent glands which produce the fragrance you and I find rather stinky, but I suspect the javelina find rather welcoming. Not only do javelinas mark their territory by rubbing against bushes and boulders but they also mark each other. The extremely near-sighted peccaries identify members of the herd by smell.

A squadron of javelinas usually consists solely of adult females, a single boar, and a few young. A litter of baby javelina numbers anywhere between 2 to 6. Here is the amazing thing, a baby javelian can nurse with any of the mothers in the herd who are lactating. Javelinas do not distinguish between mine and yours but only herd or not herd.

Behind a house where I used to reside in Sedona, there is an arroyo that served as an animal highway for creatures trying to slip in and out of the wilderness. The arroyo was travelled by deer, coyotes, foxes, and javelina. One night there was a tremendous ruckus behind the house on the edge of the arroyo. A mother javelina had given birth to a litter inside a drainage culvert. A small pack of coyotes arrived to do battle with squadron. The snorting, growling, and howling lasted far into the night. It was a ferocious battle.

In the morning I looked out in side yard and saw a mother and three tiny newborn baby javelina. They had survived the night. They grazed in the yard for the next two days and then one morning they were gone.

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Stories and photos of wildlife from around the world. Articles also cover gear, travel, and other topics related to wildlife watching and photography.

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Gary Every

Gary Every is the author severl books including “The Saint and the Robot” “Inca Butterflies” and has been nominated for the Rhysling Award 7 times