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Javelina Among Us

Newly established residents and seasonal visitors frequently express curiosity about the javelina (collared peccary) that occupy the territory around Wickenburg. For those of us who are long time residents of rural Arizona, or who spend significant time in even more remote areas, we have become rather accustomed to these critters. Their nightly predation of the cacti and other plants prompts us to place chicken wire around our more costly plants and shrubs, generally to no avail. I’ve counted groups as large as nine on my property at night, but that is probably not close to a local record.

The collared peccary are not indigenous to Arizona; they are actually from South America and their bones are not found in Arizona’s archaeological sites. Their range extends from as far south as Argentina to (roughly) the Mogollon Rim in our state, primarily from 1000 to 6000 feet elevation. Their migration into Arizona (which is still expanding) is probably tied to the demise of native grasslands when they were replaced by scrub and cactus.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department states that mature javelina can weigh from thirty-five to about sixty pounds and have an average life span of seven and a half years in the wild. They can produce offspring year-round, which gives them the greatest reproductive potential of all North American big game. I have seen infant javelina, both in mine tunnels or with their herd family, at just about any time of the year.

Infant Javelina
Figure 1: Infant Javelina

Figure 1 shows an infant that is only two or three weeks old. I located it during a mid-July hike when the mother came charging out of a mine tunnel and galloped down the mountainside. The tunnel (adit) was not more than twenty feet deep and is probably used by javelina for birthing and until the infants are weaned after about six weeks.

In Figure 2 you can see another youngster that I photographed in January, 2009.

Young Javelina
Figure 2: Javelina Herd with Juvenile

There are five adult javelinas in this group plus the juvenile. The coloring of the youngster indicates a slightly reddish dorsal stripe, so it would not be more than three months old (November birth). The total number of javelina in this herd was eleven.

Figure 3 shows another adult javelina with a prominent collar mark. Javelinas develop a long, dense winter coat that makes the “collar” more prominent. In warmer months the javelina will shed the longer hair and the collar may not be visible.

Adult Javelina
Figure 3: Adult with Collar Marking

Javelinas are herd animals with group sizes that average eight to nine individuals, but can range up to twenty. The herd is territorial and, depending upon the feed quality of the habitat, may establish a range of one to four square miles in area.

The herd is sociable among its members, but will display aggressive behavior to a non-member javelina that intrudes its territory. One of the methods of herd identification is the use of scent glands.

Figure 4: Sharing Herd Scent

Figure 4 shows a javelina rubbing the scent gland of a herd member. This allows them to identify each other and to distinguish javelina from a different group.

Although they have very poor vision, their hearing and sense of smell is exceptionally good. If spooked, they might run headlong in just about any direction – including where you happen to be standing. I have nearly been run over by charging javelina while hiking. Since neither I nor they had any idea where they were headed, the last ten or fifteen feet produced a rather tense moment.

Figure 5 shows a javelina that could not see me or detect my scent because the wind direction was in my favor. In spite of this, the javelina must have heard my camera, or possibly my breathing, because it turned in my direction and began sniffing the air in an effort to locate me.

Figure 5: Sniffing the Air for Danger

When alarmed, they will make a “bark-grunt” sound. This fellow never figured out where I was, but issued several barks before he eventually ambled off to rejoin the herd.

The primary predators of adult javelina are mountain lions and coyotes. Juveniles are also susceptible to the predation of bobcats and eagles. I frequently find mountain lion and bobcat tracks in the same washes and creeks used by javelina as travel corridors to various feeding areas in their territory.

Where to Find Javelina

Most local residents don’t have to be told how, or where, to observe javelina – they only need to step outside after dark with a flashlight. Javelinas are most active at night, but will move around in the daytime during the winter season. If you are interested in observing them in their natural habitat, the best places would be isolated washes, gulches or creeks that carry water during seasonal runoff, or areas near dirt tanks, springs or wells. Most of the photos in this article were taken in the ATOS Gulch near Balanced Rock. This gulch has at least one natural spring and provides pools of water throughout much of the year.

Javelinas seem to enjoy taking mud baths and rolling around in standing pools of water. If you can locate a wet, muddy spot in a creek or wash after a recent rain storm, you are likely to find dozens, if not hundreds, of hoof prints. As far as I know, they are not good swimmers, however. I have found dead juvenile javelinas in areas that carried heavy runoff after a storm.

As a general statement, you can find javelina herds just about any direction you choose around Wickenburg, and they do not confine themselves to washes and gulches. Mountainsides, particularly north and east-facing slopes that are covered with shrubs and bushes, provide food, shade and cooler temperatures. However, once a javelina jumps into a hillside covered with jojoba, about all you will see is the shaking of bushes.

Your success in seeing javelina will also depend on how quiet and still you are. Most of my encounters have occurred when I was either by myself or with only one other person. If the breeze is flowing toward the javelina, they will pick up your scent and close observation will not be possible.

There is probably more myth than fact about the danger that javelina pose. They are not out on patrol looking for the chance to attack humans. Most encounters with charging javelina are probably because they are trying to run away from a perceived danger – they just don?t know where you are. Common sense should tell you that it is unwise to approach a herd, especially if there are youngsters in the group. Because coyotes are one of their primary predators, loose dogs are at risk.

Last 5 posts by Allan Hall

2 comments to Javelina Among Us

  • Patrick

    Dear Mr. Hall,
    I love hiking Az and am an avid wildlife watcher, I was hoping you would be so kind since I have never seen a javelina and would relish the oppurtunity to see one, if you would be so kind as to possibly provide a GPS Co-ord of where you found the javelina or where they were living in the caves. I am a responsible hiker (pack in and pack out) and animal lover just wanted to get a heads up on finding an animal I have never been able to find in the wild. Thanks for the great articles and your time

  • Allan Hall

    Thanks for your kind comments and for visiting the web site. Most of the photos used for this article were taken at a location near Balanced Rock, between the ATOS Mine and the Hassayampa River.

    If you will reference the article titled “Hiking the ATOS Loop Trail” you will find a complete list of GPS coordinates for this hike. Waypoint #11 (Balanced Rock) will position you very nicely above the gulch where this herd was spotted. The coordinates from #9 through #15 contain areas where you are likely to find many tracks. This is an excellent cool season hike, but 4WD is absolutely required to reach the trailhead.

    I suggest that you read the entire article about the ATOS Loop to familiarize yourself with the conditions and safety issues.