Welcome to the vast and beautiful Sonoran Desert, home to over 60 different mammal species. One mammal you may see (and smell) should you visit our desert is the javelina (pronounced have-uh-LEEN-uh) which is the common name for the collared peccary.
Javelinas are pig-like animals in appearance but are a different species than pigs or wild boars. They have large heads, long snouts, small ears, sharp tusks and hooves. The adults have brown-black wiry hair and sport a slim band of white fur around their thick necks. The juveniles resemble the adult but are red or yellow in color. Size wise, adults are about a meter (3 feet) long and weigh 14 – 25 kg (37 – 55 pounds). Offspring are usually born in sets of twos or threes and are able to travel with the herd shortly after birth. Javelinas have acute senses of hearing and smell but poor vision.
Most javelinas are quite social and live in family groups of less than 12 although sometimes they are observed in bands as large as 40 or more. They have scent glands on top of their rumps and use these to mark their territory and identify members of their herd by rubbing their fragrance into tree stumps, rocks, vegetation and family members. The musky smell is distinct and often your first clue that javelinas are in the area.
Their diet preferences include roots, cactus such as prickly pears, fruits, agave, mesquite beans, insects and small reptiles. Occasionally they will eat rodents or dead birds. Unlike some desert animals, they need a water source which is why they are often seen in semi-urban areas.
Know that javelinas are thriving and the species is not threatened. To increase your chances of viewing javelinas, look in natural desert areas with cactus and other succulents, open grasslands, saguaro and palo verde forests and in washes. Search in the cooler hours of the day, keeping in mind these slow moving animals are most active at dawn and dusk. During the hottest hours, javelinas prefer to bed down or forage in shaded areas.
Never approach javelinas and especially when they have young or are with a larger herd. It is rare for them to attack but they are wild animals and will protect their babies or charge if they feel threatened. Most unfortunate incidents with the cautious javelina seem to involve dogs and humans: dogs chase the javelinas and owners attempt to protect their dogs from provoked and aggressive javelinas. Ideally, you should observe them from a distance and not disturb them with noise or movement.
Like bears, bobcats and other wildlife, it is best not to feed them. This encourages them to raid neighborhoods and increases the likelihood of confrontations with people and pets. Human fed javelinas are more likely to become aggressive once they associate humans with food and in some cases wildlife management is compelled to remove them.
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