My buddy Higgins had an unpleasant encounter with a couple of javelina the other day which shortened both our lives by about 20 years.
The next day, I learned that my neighbor's little dog, Chipper, was totally torn up by these nasty critters and was clinging to life.
We fear them and would like them eliminated from our space. But what do we actually know about them? A little research seemed in order.
The Collared Peccary, also known as the javelina, Tayaussa and musk hog, is the only wild, native, pig-like animal found in the United States. And within the U.S., they are only found in Arizona and parts of New Mexico and Texas.
While we call them pigs, they are classified in a family of their own, Tayassuidae. The name javelina, Spanish for javelin or spear, describes their razor sharp tusks which are 1 1/2 inches long and, as we all know, can inflict extensive and frequently deadly damage. Although javelina have poor eyesight, their hearing is very acute.
Javelina travel in a band numbering from 6 to 12 and they eat, sleep and forage together. They are most active during the early morning and evening as they do not tolerate heat. Herds have a linear dominance hierarchy with a large dominant male as leader and the rest of the order is determined by size. That is why we see them walking single file from largest to smallest.
The favorite food of javelina is prickly pear cactus because of the large amount of liquid it contains. They also eat roots, bulbs, beans, nuts, berries, fruits, insects, worms, reptiles and our favorite tulips. Primarily herbivorous, they are really not interested in eating our dogs and cats. They just do not want to be disturbed by them.
The primary predators of javelina are humans, coyotes, pumas, jaguars and bobcats. They have been prized for their skins and as hunting trophies and are among the most important big game species in Arizona.
Javelina are not dangerous when left alone. There are many who will dispute this, but it is what the books say. According to my Desert USA Internet resource and "Javelina, Research and Management in Arizona" by Richard I. Day, with the Game and Fish Department, an entire band can attack if one is wounded or pursued, or even if they think your dog is pursuing them. They can be fairly speedy and agile.
Feeding javelina is a very bad idea as it causes them to lose their fear of humans and will return regularly.
It is because they are extremely territorial that we have such problems with them. They mark their territory by rubbing their powerful musk gland against rocks, tree trunks and stumps. This gland is located along the backbone about seven inches forward from the tail. Once they choose a territory, they want to keep it and do not appreciate being asked to leave. They often have a different territory for winter and summer, which is why we might not see them for a time and think they have moved away and then, there they are. They will go under or through fences to get to a favorite bedding down place.
Because they find the shelter under decks to be rather cozy, particularly at a vacant house, they will resist efforts to vacate at the request of new, permanent homeowners.
There is a hunting season for javelina, but they are protected and you can get in a heap of trouble for assuming you can shoot those that invade your property.
Back to Higgins and Chipper. Higgins received four puncture wounds, one more serious than the others. He is keeping it clean and is on antibiotics. Chipper and his people, Don and Shirley Stiller, are in recovery. Chipper, at 6:15 a.m. Sunday, jumped or fell off the deck into a herd of javelina. Shirley screamed and somehow Chipper managed to move away from them long enough to be rescued by a brave and barefoot daughter. He was in the vet's office within half an hour. All 10 pounds of him have been stapled back together and he has a drain tube on the deepest wound. His chances of surviving were slim -- but he is a feisty little guy. His one rear leg had severe muscle damage and its use might be limited. Time will tell. Meantime, he is on two antibiotics and two pain killers.
The moral of the story is -- we need to keep our dogs leashed when walking in the woods or train them to stay close by. That is tough when your dog loves to run. If your home is in territory desired by javelina, a stronger fence might be needed. If your dog does get gored, get him on antibiotics right away. Infection can be deadly.
I cannot put in words the experience of hearing my dear Higgins screaming in pain and fear and me with no means of helping him. In my normal calm and sensible manner, I screamed hysterically as I ran toward him wondering what I would do when I arrived on the ghastly scene. I screamed his name continuously and soon he appeared through the bush. I do believe my screaming probably frightened the javelina and brought Higgins to the realization that he should flee. Who knows if he has learned a lesson. I certainly hope so.
Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by snail-mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.