Javelinas claim a U.S. desert home
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2007:
TUCSON–Encountering a dozen peccaries during a dawn walk
with her three Chihuahuas on December 7, 2006, Tracy Gordon, 34,
of Tucson, was bitten, knocked down, and trampled. One Chihuahua
was critically injured. Another suffered a large bite on the neck.
Arizona Game & Fish Department information and education
program manager Tom Whetten suggested that the javelinas were
protecting younger members of the herd.
Gordon “did exactly what she was supposed to do by getting
those dogs under control,” Whetten told Enric Volante and Jeff
Commings of the Arizona Daily Star.
Whetten attributed the presence of the javelinas in Gordon’s
suburban neighborhood to people who leave food out for them.
“If we can get people to stop feeding, we can stop having
large herds in the metropolitan area,” Whetten said.
The attack on Gordon and her dogs was the most serious human
conflict yet with javelinas in the Tucson area, but hardly the
first. “Pima County Animal Care Center data released last month show
17 incidents since November 2001 in which one or more javelinas bit a
person, including six bitings this year–more than in any year since
2002,” wrote Commings.
“All bites except one were serious enough for the victim to
seek medical treatment, rather than treat the wound at home. Many
of those injured were adults in their 40s or 50s, although one man
bitten last January was 76,” Commings continued.
That middle-aged and older adults were most often bitten may
chiefly reflect the composition of the human population where the
incidents occurred, in recently developed upscale neighborhoods with
relatively few young children–or may hint that peccaries are less
inclined to live where children are often outside making noise.
Commonly considered “pigs,” javelinas are actually
peccaries, the most pig-like animals who are not pigs.
“Though pigs and peccaries are classified within the same
order of mammals, they’re in different families,” explains nature
writer Lauray Yule in her 2004 book Javelinas. “The two families
diverged about 38 million years ago: pigs evolved in the Old World,
peccaries in the New World.”
Like elephants, camels, lions, and horses, peccaries
actually evolved in North America, but vanished during the Ice Ages.
Twenty-five-million-year-old fossil peccaries found in Nebraska had
skulls three feet long, longer than the entire bodies of modern
peccaries. Their descendants apparently downsized as they retreated
south, away from the advancing glaciers.
Old World pigs and modern javelinas, migrating from Central
America, appear to have reached the U.S. Southwest at almost the
same time. Spanish missionaries had been exploring and establishing
settlements in what is now the U.S. Southwest, often bringing pigs
with them, for nearly 200 years before two Jesuits mentioned
javelinas between 1756 and 1767. Beaver trappers recorded the
presence of javelinas in 1826, wrote Yule, but the Smithsonian
Institution did not identify javelinas as a U.S. species until
naturalist E.A. Mearns discovered them near the Mexican border in
1907. The U.S. Geological Survey confirmed their existence in 1931.
Since then, javelinas are often seen in much of their range.
Increased visibility roughly coincided with predator control
campaigns that in the mid-20th century extirpated Mexican gray
wolves, substantially diminished the puma population, and killed
millions of coyotes.
The human tendency to kill rattlesnakes might also have
helped javelinas to establish themselves on the edges of fast-growing
cities, since rattlesnakes can be a deadly rival for burrow space.