By Executive Director Nancy L.C. Steele
My father was a hunter. He pulled his tags annually and enjoyed the camaraderie of hunting with other men. He supported Arizona Game and Fish, and he was a certified hunter safety instructor. He taught me to support wildlife conservation and set me on the path I have traveled.
But my dad almost never brought back anything from a hunt. The last deer he killed was in 1951. I have a picture: his gun is across the antlers and he is leaning forward, holding onto the tip of an antler, with a grin on his face.
His brother and nephews were prodigious hunters. Every Thanksgiving, which we celebrated at my aunt and uncle’s house, I would examine the wall of skins and heads. I was fascinated! There was a mount of every game animal.
But my dad came home from hunting with stories of the ones that got away. They were too far away, too fast, or someone else shot the deer. My dad brought home, instead, photos of his beloved Arizona landscape, and he mounted antlers that he had picked up on the range.
One day, Dad was out hunting javelina. I wasn’t expecting him home when he came into the house and called me to help him. I went outside and I was horrified to see his pickup pulled into the side yard, tailgate down, and something javelina-sized in the bed, covered with a tarp. “I just need your help for a minute.” “Did you shoot a javelina?” I must have asked, but he didn’t answer. He had a board set up from the tailgate to the ground.
He flipped the tarp off to reveal that he had bagged – a rock. A very large rock. I goggled at the rock. “I’ve been looking at this rock for years and I finally was able to dig it out,” he said with satisfaction. I helped him guide it down the board and into the yard. He’d bagged a big one, for sure.
Although I did a lot of camping and hiking growing up in Arizona, I didn’t see a javelina in the wild until I moved to the Verde Valley. Javelina were everywhere! On the drive to my first day of work, I watched four javelina – two large and two small – crossing the road. On my morning walk, I sometimes shared the road with a squadron of javelina going the other way. On a hike in Sycamore Canyon, I smelled what I thought was a skunk, only to be informed it was the stink of javelina.
On our land, we have small, fenced front and back yards. I discovered why when I left a backyard gate open. Javelina quickly discovered the opening and explored. I found out that javelina just love apricot kernels. I tried to get them to leave to no avail. Ignoring me, they stayed until the ground was cleared.
One night, a couple of winters ago, I was home alone and heard someone walking in heels on the back porch – then I heard a lot of someones. It was a squadron of about 15 adults and two little ones. Unfortunately for me, they found a bag of birdseed on the porch. There was nothing I could do to get them to leave. They squabbled, grunted, squealed, and fought over the food. The babies and smaller ones hunkered down under my sofa table for safety. After about 45 minutes, once they had eaten the seed, they finally left.
Javelina are another member of our wildlife community that depends on a healthy, flowing Verde River and environs. Javelina are very social. Young males stay with their family group, but only the lead male fathers the babies. The females give birth to twins, which can walk soon after birth. There are usually an even number of males and females in each squadron.
Initially afraid of javelina, I’ve learned that they really want nothing from me, except to be left alone. When I see a group, they trot away. One big javelina always hangs back, apparently making sure that I’m no threat to the squad.
Javelina have no set breeding period but rather they breed in response to rain. As they eat plant material, they know not to bring babies into the world that they can’t support. I had wondered why we didn’t see as many javelina this last year, but it was apparently too dry.
And in case you wondered, javelina are not pigs. Another name for javelina is collared peccary. They are a New World animal and have relatives extending from Arizona to South America.
Friends of the Verde River works hard to keep nature healthy for you and animals like javelina. You can learn more and support our work at www.verderiver.org.