Or is it peccary? Or both? For sure it’s not a pig.
According to the Sonoran Desert Museum’s website (DesertMuseum.org), “Javelina, also known as collared peccary, are medium-sized animals that look similar to a wild boar. They have mainly short coarse salt and pepper colored hair, short legs, and a pig-like nose. The hair around the neck/shoulder area is lighter in color giving it the look of a collar. Javelina have long, sharp canine teeth which protrude from the jaws about an inch.”
They look like a pig, they sound like a pig, but a pig they are not.
A javelina (pronounced ha-vuh-lee-nuh) is in a species group all by itself. What sets them apart is the four toes on their front feet, an unnoticeable tail, and scent glands near their rear end.
Out of all my visits to Arizona, including the one I just returned from, I have yet to see a javelina walking around, let alone a squadron of these tiny, ferocious beasts. And yes, javelinas travel in groups called a squadron. The average squadron size is seven or eight. So imagine taking out the trash and being rolled up on by a squadron of javelina. It wouldn’t end well for your shins.
My white whale
I’ve seen a tarantula, black widow, and lizards galore. I’ve seen a bobcat, snakes, jackrabbits and coyotes. My father has a roadrunner that frequents his backyard, along with entire families of quail and a possessive humming bird. But never a collared peccary, aka the javelina.
Because of this I’ve taken quite an interest in the animal that single-handedly caused Arizonians to need giant, fortress-like trash cans.
After doing a little research on the animal and scouring well over one hundred years of newspapers, I’ve found that I am not alone in my quest for answers regarding the mysterious javelina. Often hunted, often feared, rarely seen… until it’s too late.
Roosevelt wants in
Over the course of President Theodore Roosevelt’s life, there weren’t many animals that the man didn’t successfully hunt. In one trip to Africa, he and his son Kermit recorded 512 kills combined, including nine giraffes, 72 great bustards and two dikdiks.
During his presidency, between 1901 and 1909, whenever he passed through San Antonio, Texas, he always inquired about hunting javelina. Whether he got one or not is unclear, but we at least know they were on his radar.
The Great Peccary Chase of 1908
This story line from 1908 kept people on the edge of their seats until the very end. Wild javelina attacks citizens, goes into hiding, and is finally found and executed by a heroic (?) police officer.
Horse versus javelina
The dapper gentleman shown above is Colonel B.F. Yoakum. Apparently the colonel was out with some friends hunting when the horse he was riding was attacked by a javelina. The horse threw its rider into the air and Yoakum was injured. Have no fear, “the animal was in the act of charging him most viciously when it was shot.”
Not Welcome Here!
1913 brought us the sad tale of a javelina looking to start a new life in the big city. Lee Evans and his shotgun weren’t having any of that nonsense.
Used Car Javelina
It would appear that some cities are okay with javelinas. A car salesman named, L.C. James was gifted a tiny peccary by a friend. He named the little fella, “Grunty” and the two worked together to sell automobiles to confused customers.
Surrounded in Ruby
“Maddened javelinas of unusual size” attacked a pair of couples who were out enjoying the scenic southwest. One of the women in the party was able to stand on a boulder and swing her sweater at the beasts, confusing them and driving them away. After the other three came down from their tree branches they were able to laugh about what happened but it was ‘tusk’ and go for a minute there.
Where have all the javelinas gone?
In 1938 the Tucson Game Protective Association became concerned with the dwindling numbers of peccaries. A census of sorts was conducted to count the javelinas around town. The results must have been better than they anticipated because…
The Hunt is back on!
Hunting javelina became legal again the year after the census was taken. If you were brave enough to try, you could bag a peccary with your buddies and have stories to impress the women folk.
The Fifties and Sixties
1940 through 1970 didn’t return as many results on the javelina in animal form. It did however, give me thousands of results on a small Division II college in Texas. Searching “javelina attack” spit out results of a quarterback that threw for 300 yards instead of the hairy, tough as nails, posterior scent gland having, peccary.
Adding rabies into the mix
1986 gave us the first recorded instance of a rabid javelina after one bit a woman who was hunting near Campaign Creek. She noticed the animal acting erratic as it approached her and sunk it’s teeth into her ankle. Her husband shot the javelina and helped his wife to the hospital.
Not part of the exhibit
I was surprised to read this story as the Sonoran Desert Museum is a place I’ve been to a dozen times in my life. What makes this museum/zoo different is that wild animals can just walk onto some parts of the property since it is an open air museum. You’re right in the Tucson desert when you’re visiting. I’ve seen Tarantulas near the walking path, birds fly in and out, and I assume snakes can come and go.
There are enclosures for some of the animals, along with indoor exhibits and animals, but that’s not where a tourist from Holland met our friend the Javelina. He was attacked along a walking path, sustained numerous injuries and sued the museum.
From what I read, a settlement was reached, the museum reopened shortly after, and not much has changed to prevent it from happening again… and it shouldn’t, that’s part of the beauty of the place.
I hope you enjoyed learning more about javelinas with me. They certainly have made their mark in history, at least in the Southwest. One day I will see one in the wild, I just hope I’m behind a fence or up in a tree when I do.