Thursday, May 1, 2014

Javelinas in the Hood

The signs are everywhere if you know what to look for: seedy piles of scat; hoof prints in the dust; large bites taken out of cactus pads; shallow depressions in the shade of mesquite trees and the occasional tuft of coarse dark gray hair. If you have a good nose, you might smell their peculiar musky scent. Collared peccaries, better known as javelinas, are frequent visitors to many suburban neighborhoods in Arizona. However, unless you are nocturnal like they are, actually seeing one is quite rare.

Stetson Hills resident, Jennifer Moore, was once woken at 2:00 am by the sound of snorting and huffing outside her open window. When she looked out to see what was going on, there was a herd of eight javelinas trotting single file down the sidewalk. Another neighbor regularly sees them very early in the morning outside their view fence as the animals make their way to daytime shelters under nearby palo verde trees. A more recent report came from a neighbor who witnessed a pack of coyotes gorging on the carcass of a large javelina boar along one of the neighborhood trails.

Suburban habitats around Phoenix provide a smorgasbord of some of the javelina's favorite foods, including jojoba nuts, acorns, cactus fruit and pads, mesquite pods, agave, plus flowers, fruit and bulbs. Like their distant cousins, wild boars and pigs, javelinas are opportunists, so will happily eat your garden tomatoes, squash, birdseed or a bowl of dog food. By night they may be munching in  your yard, but during the day they will retreat up washes into the desert where they can rest unseen until the sun goes down. The Deem Hills are home to at least one small herd of javelinas that considers the neighborhood of Stetson Hills to be part of their territory.

They are named for their small spear-like, or javelin-shaped, tusks that grow from the upper jaw of both sows and boars. Also recognized by their peculiar flattened heads and long "collar" of bristly white hair, javelinas are reputed to have very poor eyesight, but keen senses of smell and hearing. They are common throughout the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, all of Mexico and Central America and down into Argentina where they also inhabit tropical rain forests. In fact, paleontological research suggests that javelinas evolved in rain forests and have gradually extended their range to North American deserts. Archaeological evidence indicates that they did not inhabit northern and central Arizona until the late 1600's. Severe winter weather limits their range further north.

Javelinas are one of the few large wild mammals that breed year round, so it is not unusual to see pairs of tiny, red-haired piglets scampering to keep up with the rest of the family. About the size of a cottontail rabbit, the one-pound piglets are ready to run within a few days of being born. Although the mortality rate for javelinas 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. Although javelinas are generally gentle animals, they do have a reputation for being aggressive defenders of their young. In any encounter with wildlife, it is best to not get between a mama and her babies!

As with most wildlife, javelinas are more threatened by humans than the other way around. To avoid any chance of unwanted aggression between you, your pets and a frightened javelina, refrain from artificially feeding or watering them, and keep pet food indoors.


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