Not A Pig!

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I run into people all the time who refer to Javelinas as “pigs.”  They’re not pigs and in fact, pigs and Javelinas are only distantly related.  A pig is an Old World species whereas the Javelina, also known as a Collard Peccary,” evolved in the Americas.  There are distinct anatomical and biological differences between the two species that prove that they diverged many millions of years ago.

An adult Javelina weighs between about 40 and about 60 pounds.  Javelinas live in extended family groups that may number from as few as two or three individuals to dozens.  A Javelina is predominately a herbivore although it will eat animal protein, such as grubs, insects, or road kill, on occasion.  Javelinas evolved in Central and Latin America and have gradually extended their range north.  In Arizona they are common around Tucson and Phoenix, but have been spotted as far north as Flagstaff and beyond.  A Javelina has poor eyesight but fantastic hearing and a great sense of smell.  In the Tucson area Javelinas have become habituated to humans and they can be seen at times roaming through suburban neighborhoods.  They can bear young at any time during the year family groups typically include youngsters.  The adults are highly protective of their offspring.  Javelinas are not aggressive but they will defend themselves if they feel threatened.  It’s a mistake to approach these animals too closely, particularly if there are young Javelinas in the group.  A Javelina has one-inch canines and it will bite in self-defense.  There are a few stories, some apocryphal, perhaps, of people being bitten by Javelinas.

I was at Sweetwater Wetlands, walking the paths, just at sunrise this morning.  I rounded a bend, and there, in front of me, was this:

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A very large Javelina, probably a male, placidly grazing on some new vegetation.  He was about 20 feet from me when I saw him.  I froze in place and watched for a moment as he foraged.

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The Javelina ignored me.  He must have known that I was there, bad vision or not, because if nothing else, my camera’s shutter was making noise as I photographed him.  But, he acted as if I didn’t exist.  After a minute or so, he began walking directly towards me, not looking at me, but walking straight in my direction.

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I took that as my cue to retreat and I began walking backwards, matching or slightly exceeding the Javelina’s pace.  He continued to advance and continued to pay not an iota of attention to me.  By this time he certainly was aware of me, but remained utterly disinterested.

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By now, I was thinking:  where is his family?  On one occasion a couple of years ago I’d encountered a lone Javelina in similar circumstances, backed away, and almost stepped on several other Javelinas who had walked up behind me.  They were nice about it, but I didn’t want to test my luck in that way a second time.  So, I kept looking over my shoulder as I retreated, hoping that nothing was going to pop up at my rear.

Suddenly, the Javelina in front of me made a 90-degree left turn and walked straight into the dense reeds that border one of the wetlands’ ponds.  He disappeared from sight almost immediately and seconds later I heard a great deal of thrashing among  the reeds.  I watched as reeds shook back and forth and then, all was quiet.  My guess is that his family had been waiting for him and that they had been reunited.

Why was this Javelina so blasé about my presence?  Well, a possibility.  Sweetwater Wetlands is an oasis among a small sea of warehouses, light assembly plants, waste disposal facilities, and other commercial enterprises.  My supposition is that this Javelina and his family probably frequent these locations, looking for food and, in doing so, they see people all the time.  They’ve become more or less inured to human contact and aren’t particularly fazed by the occasional Javelina-human encounter.  Still, I was glad that I’d been able to see and photograph this Javelina without incident.

Photos taken with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, ISO 640, aperture preferred setting, f4.5, shutter speeds varied.


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