Encounters of the Javelina
In the desert southwest, there is a burly quadruped called a collared peccary. While it looks like a pig, it does not belong in the swine family. Most natives in the area call it (no, not “peckered collery’) javelina from the Portuguese, javali, (Spanish, jabali), for “spear” or “javelin;” a reference to its speed across open country and the large cuspid tusks.
Javelina travel in small groups led by a dominant male, who has the only reproductive privileges. This group was led by a large male, named Javier; his mate, Serafina and their offspring: Jake, Rosario and Elise. There were three lesser males that trailed along after them. It was always a question whether Javier was the real father of any of the juveniles, as javelina females are notoriously promiscuous. Serafina’s pheromones were particularly strong. This made her incredibly attractive to other males. She had a squinty-eyed face with a twisted and yellow lower left tusk, which didn’t make her attractive in the usual sense. But boars mounted her from the rear, and never noticed her appearance, only that enticing fragrance from her anal glands.
Her youngest daughter, Elise, had inherited her mother’s glandular superiority and had already, precociously, attracted the attention of Ludwig, one of the young males. Ludwig realized he need not challenge the alpha male, Javier, for Elise’s favors.
Ludwig’s family had traveled all the way across Mexico from Guatemala. When they reached the US-Mexico border they were confronted by a large security fence. The javelinas simply dug a deep pit, wallowed in the cool soil for several hours, then proceeded to tunnel under the fence and onto US land. This set off several motion-detector alarms in Border Patrol vehicles. The javelinas were not arrested, nor returned to Mexican soil, but neither was the tunnel filled in, and several hundred illegal immigrants used the javelina-built tunnel for entry into the US. Some even dressed as peccaries.
The javelina did not like humans, called them gella-bana, which is javelina for “non-peccary.” Serafina’s aunt, Josefina Javelina, had an encounter with some humans. Her son, Jose, only six inches tall, charged toward the men, and gored one on the ankle.
“How’d he taste?” asked Josefina.
“Terrible! Like dirty socks!”
It was decided, then, to scratch gella-bana off the list of eligible prey. No matter, the list of other edible things remained long.
The band, of which Javier was head, preferred to dwell in a dry wash, in south-east Arizona, near the Aravaipa Creek, a reliable source of water year-round. In summer, in the daytime, they lolled in the shade beneath some mesquite trees and foraged for food by moonlight.
They were munching on some prickly pear pads one evening when they smelled the awful stench of gella-bana. It was difficult to tell if the gella-bana were male or female as they hid their bodies beneath cloth. Some of the larger ones, presumably male, sprouted black bristles from their nose. They were fond of carrying things: bags of other cloths; bags of white powder; short, black sticks that seemingly had no purpose.
“Keep away from them,” said Javier. “They can be very dangerous if aroused. And above all do not feed them.”
“What would we feed them anyhow, Papa?” asked Rosario.
“They like prickly pear pads,” said Javier, his mouth half-full of prickly pear pads. “Call them nopales, and they dig those tubers out of the ground and eat them.”
“They have that shimmering, orange light that shines in the night. They put their food in there to make it warm,” said Jake.
“Just stay away from them,” said Javier again, his mouth still full of a nopal. “If they get too close, turn and kick dirt at them with your hind feet. All the while grunting as loud and ferociously as possible. If that doesn’t scare them off, charge at them, squealing, and showing your spear teeth.”
“Don’t let your father frighten you, children,” said Serafina. “They are basically stupid. They have good eyesight, but a poor sense of smell. They wouldn’t dare try to eat us, as we are too big for their puny mouths. Keep your distance, and there will be nothing to worry about.”
Serafina, intentionally, did not tell the children about the long sticks the gella-bana sometimes carried. These had fire at the tips and somehow killed javelina, which the men carried away for some unknown purpose.
In the Aravaipa Canyon there lived a mountain lion, named Keith. Puma could kill a javelina if given the chance, but Keith conserved his energy wisely. He knew that the group would attack him with their razor-sharp canines if he jumped on a juvenile’s back. He looked for sick or crippled individuals, who had wandered or lagged far from the troop. This was a rare occurrence, and so there existed a certain truce between the two species. Keith’s odor preceded him so there was no chance for surprise.
There also existed a bobcat named Rolbeto, who could take a very young javelina. It wasn’t worth tangling with an angry javelina mother to try. Rolbeto never spoke to Keith, but if Keith killed a deer, Rolbeto would be glad to feast on the leavings.
On the summer day, when Javier was lecturing his children on the dangers of gella-bana, Keith came into the dry-wash from the east, while Rolbeto came in from the north.
“Hello, Javier,” said Keith.
“Hello, Keith,” said Javier.
Javier, who always kept his head down and his nostrils in the dust, lifted his snout as far as he could. This allowed him to keep a weak eye on the predator.
“I was just wondering if you had seen any deer or. . .”
Just then, Rolbeto appeared from beneath the mesquite brush. On seeing Keith, he arched his back and made the hairs along his spine stand straight up. The two felines eyed each other from this near distance. They probably had seen each other from canyon rim to canyon floor, but never this close. Rolbeto’s scent was lost in the prevailing wind blowing northward up the arroyo. The bobcat tucked his tail and scuttled off through the underbrush.
“Well, that was strange,” said Keith. “I can’t stand that guy, usually.”
“Competition, eh?” said Javier.
“It’s not that so much. . .” Keith trailed off.
“Have you seen the gella-bana camped over on the flat?” Javier asked.
“Gella-bana?” asked Keith. He did not know this word of javelina.
“The two-legged ones who wear clothes.”
“I smelled them,” said Keith. “Smelled their fire and their excrement. They can be dangerous. And, there are so many of them. I don’t like them, either”
This remark made Keith seem grumpy and bad-tempered. He was really only solitary, and preferred his own company to that of others. When he came upon another species he usually killed it. He never conversed with the jack-rabbits or desert big-horn sheep he ate, such a thing would be rude and appetite-stifling. There was a certain mutual respect between Keith and Javier. Keith’s presence and scent made the young javelina produce large amounts of adrenaline in their blood
“I wish we could do something to scare the gella-bana away,” said Javier.
“I could roar very loudly,” offered Keith. “But, I’ve tried that before, and they had these noisemakers that contained bees in them, and I was more scared than they were.”
“Noisemakers with bees?” asked Javier, totally confused by Keith’s explanation. Only Serafina had any experience with the sticks that bloomed fire and spat whizzing bees.
“Maybe we should move away from this canyon,” Javier continued.
“And abandon the water in this creek?” said Keith. The water attracted all sorts of game from birds to mule deer. Javier only understood the water for drinking.
“Besides, I think they are only here temporarily. Men usually build stone dens when they intend to stay.”
Javier had never paid that much attention to the animals Keith called “men.” It made more sense that they traveled in bands like javelina did. He had not noticed that the stone structures Keith called “dens,” were the living quarters of gella-bana.
“Let’s go over and take a look at them,” offered Keith.
“Now? In the sun? I. . .I couldn’t,” said Javier.
Javier had no sweat glands to cool him in the middle of the day. Additionally, he could not leave his band unprotected.
“Go ahead, sweetie,” said Serafina, reading his mind. “After all, you will be with our most dreaded predator.”
“What about Rolbeto?” proffered Javier.
“He’s probably miles away by now. The young boars and I can take care of him, anyway.”
Serafina was thinking of how she and the young boars could take care of other things as well. So confident was Javier of his reproductive competence, that infidelity never entered his paltry mind.
If a biologist could have observed the pair, she would have been astonished at the sight of a male mountain lion accompanying a male collared peccary through the cottonwoods along the bottomlands of Aravaipa Creek. They came up out of the canyon well downwind of the human campground and stayed hidden among the scrub pines. This was a mistake, for the humans had a poor sense of smell and would not have detected them upwind. Instead, the animals’ sensitive olfactory sense had to endure the overwhelming smell of the humans.
The Mexican illegal-immigrants numbered in the eighties. They had spread blankets on the ground for warmth and sleeping. There were discarded food wrappers and plastic water bottles strewn about. Each family group had its own latrine area, with little privacy. They were awaiting a “coyote” to escort them to a safe pickup locality where they would be transported to metropolitan areas for work opportunities.
Unexpectedly, instead of the white fifteen-passenger vans of the coyote, a series of green-and-white SUVs and pick-up trucks appeared. Some Mexicans went toward the vehicles thinking it was their transport. The majority, though, scattered. A large number fled toward the pine-scrub where Keith and Javier were hiding.
The animals emerged forward into the sunlight. Keith growling and screaming; Javier grunting and baring his lethal tusks. The immigrants skidded to a halt, then turned on their heels and ran back into the waiting arms of the Border Patrol Agents.
A reporter, who had been embedded with the agents, had a camera and took a quick photograph of the animals at the height of their fury. The picture made the front page of Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star, along with the story. The photograph became so popular; the newspaper inaugurated a contest to name the animals. The winning entries were: “Keith” for the puma, and “Javier” for the peccary.
After the melee was over, a peace settled over the filthy encampment. It was too hot for Javier, but he smelled the food leavings and came out of the shade to wander amongst the ruins. He had never before tasted cooked chicken, and the hot chiles burned his tongue. Keith disdained scavenging. If his prey didn’t move and he hadn’t killed it himself, it was not appetizing. They didn’t stay long, but on leaving Keith lifted his hind leg and urinated on a blanket. Javier defecated on some paper debris.
Without a word they turned in unison and descended the bank into the canyon. At the stream, they bade good-bye, and departed in different directions. In ten minutes, Keith was well up the valley. He stumbled upon some feathers and bird bones. Rolbeto had caught a Gambel’s quail in midflight, and devoured it here. It was not a chance discovery. Keith had followed Rolbeto’s scent. When he was content that his cousin, the bobcat, was satiated, and no longer a rival, he moved on deep into the wilderness.
Javier returned to the dry wash. There he found his band sprawled on the soft dirt in various positions of repose. There was no indication of the copulation that had occurred an hour before. Ludwig had taken Elise’s virginity and one of the stronger boars had taken Serafina.
The sun cascaded the last of its rays through the pine trees on the lip of the canyon. Then it disappeared beyond the rim, and the arroyo was drenched with darkness. The javelina rose up together, and ambled off in search of succulent prickly pears.