I had never seen a javelina before this fine October morning, captured with my BlackBerry camera.
I was staying at the Boulders resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, whose guest rooms are spread out over the property’s 1300 acres in the Sonoran desert. As I stepped out my door, I spotted another guest, a woman of a certain age, frozen solid. She pointed out the family of javelinas just mere feet away. She whispered that she lived in Arizona, was familiar with these creatures,and that sometimes they attacked.
I went to stand close to her. (Okay, okay, maybe just a couple of inches behind her.) We stood there for a while, watching the javelinas who were apparently munching on something.
I marveled at their size. When I’d heard that javelinas were a Southwestern US pest, the picture I had in my mind was steeped in my Northeastern conception of an animal pest: a rat, a bat, maybe a raccoon. While it’s hard to tell scale from the picture, that’s a baby that I snapped a picture of, and it would have come up to my mid-thigh. Its mama (or papa, I didn’t get close enough to ascertain gender) stood taller than my waist, and I’m 5’6. I’ve seen some big rats in the New York City subway, but nothing the size of that!
My new friend picked up stones from a nearby planter, in order to hurl them at the beasts should they charge us, I similarly armed myself. “I think it’s okay,” she said, and we went walking briskly passed the family. They ignored us, so, after a safe distance, we dropped the stones on the pavement and parted ways.
Well, one Dutch tourist had quite a different experience with the javelina. In June, Rene Zegerius was visiting the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tuscon, when, according to this MSNBC article, he was attacked!
“The pig-like animal…tore muscle and nerves and severed veins and arteries in his right calf and left hand.
Zegerius spent eight days in a hospital, and says he lost money on hotel and travel reservations. Medical expenses came to $70,000, and a last-minute ticket back to the Netherlands cost more than $15,000. He had to buy a first-class ticket because doctors told him he needed to stay horizontal.”
Mr. Zegerius is suing the museum, and the museum’s defense seems to be that the javelina did not belong to it, as it has wild animals on the grounds all the time, and that guests are advised of this fact. (The museum is also a zoo.) In fact, a spokesperson said, all the javelinas that the museum does own were examined and apparently ruled out as possible perpetrators of the crime. This legal blog analyzes this defense, and it seems that javelina-ownership is a critical issue for the lawsuit.
My question is, why did the javelina attack so viciously? I have no personal knowledge of the circumstances of Mr. Zegerius’ awful incident, and wouldn’t want to imply otherwise, but this helpful site from the Arizona Game & Fish Department offers some fodder for speculation: Javelina can also catch rabies, and I know from this episode of This American Life that you don’t want to be anywhere near an animal with rabies. Or perhaps our Dutch guest inadvertently acted threatening to a young javelina, or reminded the javelina of a dog, since dogs and javelinas are mortal enemies. (Which may be why javelina are apparently targeting yappy dogs in the Phoenix area.) The Game & Fish Department also strongly implies that if, say, someone were to try to feed a javelina, this could end badly for a certain someone’s appendages, as the javelina are apparently not so good at distinguishing”hand” from “food”.
Meanwhile, my friend from the Boulders was pursuing the correct strategy when she armed us with rocks. And by the way: electric fences and hoses are also good for javelina defense, should you have those items handy.
Earlier in Bad Trip: Bad Trip#1: Earthquakes, paragliding disasters and what can happen on thin ice.