Sunday, May 24, 2009

We Have Javelinas

March 2006
The Deem Hills are home to at least one small herd of javelina, also known as collared peccaries, who consider the neighborhood of Stetson Hills to be part of their territory. Mornings and evenings, the pack of peccaries comes down out of the hills to tour the suburbs, and perhaps to feast on succulent prickley pear cacti, mesquite pods, agave, or if they are feeling adventurous, a bowl of dog food!

Although they are more obvious when seen during their forays into the suburbs, a wild javelina can be incredibly difficult to spot among the desert scrub and boulders that make up their natural habitat in Arizona. During mid-day, when they are most commonly resting under trees or in shady alcoves, they can be indistinguishable from the gray shadows and rocks around them. But if you come too close for their comfort, they are most likely to bolt from their bedding spot, leaving a light musky scent in the air behind them. Where there is one javelina, there are often up to two dozen more, who all roam together in a distinctively scented herd. The special blend of musk from all of the herds’ members is rubbed onto one another, as well as being used to mark their territory.

Javelina are named for their small spear-like (or javelin) tusks that grow from the upper jaw of both sows and boars. Known also for their peculiar flattened heads, long bristley hair, poor eyesight, but keen senses of smell and hearing, these distant relatives of the domestic pig are common throughout the Sonoran and Chiricahuan deserts, and all of Mexico and Central America, where they also inhabit tropical rainforests. In fact, paleontological research suggests that peccaries evolved in rainforests, and have gradually extended their range to the southwest deserts. Archaeological evidence indicates that they did not inhabit our area until the late 1600’s. Winter weather limits their range further north.

Any time of year, a group of javelina may include a few youngsters, who are most often born as twins, and trot along with their mother within hours of birth. About the size of a cottontail rabbit, the one pound newborn piglets have reddish hair. Although the mortality of javelina is over 50% within the first year, those who make it beyond their youth may wander the desert for up to a decade. Humans, coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions are their main predators.

As with most wildlife, javelina are more threatened by humans than the other way around, but to avoid any chance of unwanted aggression between you, your pets, and a frightened javelina, it is best to refrain from artificially feeding them, and to keep your pets’ food indoors as well.

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