Prescott’s peccaries bring wilderness close to home

Jeff Rome

Staff Writer

Javelinas have, to their benefit or detriment, inspired myths as varied as their diet. These creatures, who resemble Pumbaa the warthog from Disney’s “The Lion King,” elicit many different responses from Prescottonians. Some adopt them as household pets. Some, seeing javelinas walking their way, grab their dog and jump in the back of a parked truck.
Living in a world surrounded by small scrub, javelina never adapted to see well beyond close distances, but maybe we can see beyond the myth of the scrub-roamers. It may be that they are seen most often at night, or that they travel in large herds, or that they eat all the nice tulips, but many people find something suspicious about the javelina.
The dogs seem to think they have something worth barking at.
Chris Paquette and Gretchen Guinn, whose dog, Dolphin, was bitten by a javelina last month, are now more observant when going out on hikes. “I had never heard of javelinas before I came here,” said Guinn. “I’ve always thought that they were mysterious creatures.” Guinn related that her mother thought javelinas weren’t real, “like the chupacabra,” said Guinn.

Unsure of what Dolphin’s wound came from at first, Paquette and Guinn found two dime-sized holes on her rear, about six inches apart. “You don’t think that something that looks like a pig can do that much damage,” said Paquette.

    Terril Shorb, faculty member at Prescott College, edited with his wife, Yvette Schnoeker-Shorb, a book called “Javelina Place: The Controversial Face of the Collared Peccary.”

“From the perspective of the javelina, [dogs are] essentially coyote,” said Shorb.

Javelinas are not predators; they travel in herds as a defense against being hunted.

    According to a 1998 report conducted in Prescott by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, “as long as undeveloped pockets of land or densely-vegetated travel corridors remain within the city, and homeowners provide wildlife with supplemental food, water, and cover sources, javelina will continue to thrive near residential areas and human-javelina conflicts will continue.”
“Almost everybody has a javelina story here in Prescott,” said Shorb. “There have been reports of them [here] certainly since the ’30s or ’40s.” Originally from far south near the tropics, collared peccaries have been expanding northwards and are now stretching the limits of their habitat. “This is definitely out of their range . . . one really harsh winter could wipe them out,” said Shorb. He found six newborns dead last winter, killed off by the snowy weather.
Javelinas are continuing their expansion northward into Arizona, and have been reported as far north as Flagstaff.
Among the many myths, some believe javelinas to be more closely related to rodents than pigs. Javelinas are not rodents, nor are they closely related to rodents. They are in the order artiodactyla, which includes giraffes, hippopotamuses, camels, pigs and other even-toed ungulates, while rodents are in the order rodentia. “They’re even more closely related to hippopotamus [than pigs], oddly,” said Shorb.
These hairy, walking composters with ballerina legs have, if nothing else, brought some of the wildness from the woods into the city. “I like the fact that they’re around, because a lot of people don’t see wildlife if they don’t get out hiking much,” said Shorb. “It’s kind of a privilege, to me, to have these creatures walk through our yard.”

These often misunderstood, peculiar peccaries help to keep Prescott unique. Their grunting around in our backyards may be, for some of us, the closest interaction with wildlife we are lucky to get.

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