Cochise County: The Coyote-Javelina Night War

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We should have seen the night war coming. Both javelinas (collared peccaries) and coyotes have been Cochise County residents for a long time, far longer than Pam and I’ve been around, but the signs they were a-changing.

True, we did know there were far more skunk pigs around than there were coyotes, but just like in politics, its the pigs who get the legal protection.

But onward, to the real giveaway. That was a sighting of puddling bordered patch butterflies, alighting in numbers atop a few rocks at one side of our driveway. Except that the “rocks” turned out to be vegetable, not mineral, a pile of mostly dried out Javelina scat (think “manure”). Up close, wild peccary poop is easy to identify. Inside a sort of casing, the contents obviously include grasses and seeds and such, an unmistakable recipe for javelina identification. The javelinas were either getting more numerous (raising successful batches of piglets) or hanging out near the Border Fort a lot.

This butterfly-plus-scat discovery turned out to be so significant that I decided to let our readers get a close look by using it for the header photo on this post. Enjoy!

Six days later, Pam awakened at four a.m. to hear the Mother of All Coyote Vs. Javelina Wars in full cry. “Cry” as in battle cries, pigs vs. canines. It went on for, in estimation, at least a full ten minutes–which, as anybody who’s ever been in any kind of fight knows…well, that’s a really long, ugly fight. Squeals, snarls, growls, NOISE!

And after it was over, the sound of one lone baby pig, squealing a lost-sounding squeal.

Me? I slept right through it. No, really. I really did. What the hey, I built this place with 17″ thick walls, and after all, the battle royal was over on the wife’s side of the domicile, so what did I care? I had snoozing to do!

Come daylight, I was still sawing logs. I’d gotten to sleep less than an hour before the fight broke out, so I didn’t hear her leave the house or return, either. Pam, unsurprisingly, hadn’t slept at all after the donnybrook–which she reported as sounding like it was, “Right outside my window!”

It wasn’t quite that close. She quickly located the torn-up ground where the two species had squared off, about eighty feet from the house–but yes, directly in front of her bedroom window.

When I finally got up around noon, well rested, I went out to read sign, see what the war zone had to tell me. Before we discuss that, let’s take a look at a fight scene photo. The hooves of the javelinas had torn it up as thoroughly as any good rototiller.

The coyotes vs. javelinas night war site was almost exactly square (the camera angle is deceptive), nine feet to a side.

The coyotes vs. javelinas night war site was almost exactly square (the camera angle is deceptive), nine feet to a side.

Coyotes and javelinas don’t go to war on our property every day (or night). My best guess was that our local coyote pack, though we’ve mostly spotted just one lone coyote at a time lately, had seen what they viewed as an opportunity to snag a piglet from the javelina herd.

No coyote in his or her right mind wants to seriously try to take down a full grown skunk pig. These peccaries are tough. But if one of the little ones carelessly roamed a bit too far from its family, the temptation might have been to great to resist.

Did the coyotes succeed on scoring a baby ham snack? Or did the adult javelina family members succeed in protecting their own?

We will probably never know…although the extreme length of the battle does make a bit of a case for the pigs. Certainly, the canines would have broken off the attack once they’d successfully scored lunch. And if they weren’t succeeding, it might have taken them the full ten minutes to weary of the war enough to decide taking on a javelina herd was not the best idea they’d had that night. The baby pig squeals Pammie heard after the fight support that premise; coyotes are noisy when they kill, and they’d gone silent.

At one point, I had to tell Pam, “Honey, I can’t listen to what the scene has to tell me when you’re talking.”

She zipped her lip. She wanted me to hear the message from the Earth.

The churned up area didn’t record hog hoofprints well at all, although I did find one clear coyote print there. Just off to one side, however, I found confirmation of my “attack the baby” premise. There were two very different pig hoof sizes present, one of them barely half the size of the other.

There had definitely been at least one little one for the adults to protect.

An adult javelina hoof track, roughly two fingers wide.

An adult javelina hoof track, roughly two fingers wide.

Juvenile "piglet" sized track, not much more than one finger wide.

Juvenile “piglet” sized track, not much more than one finger wide.

As luck would have it, our Bushnell Equinox Z night vision scope arrived from Amazon that same day…and two nights later, I was able to observe and record a further bit of coyote vs. javelina interaction. At the “feeding area,” where we mostly drop leftover food my anorexic wife has left unfinished, I called out my song to let the coyote pack know chow was ready. Pam and I figured this was probably a waste of time; with the javelina herd having figured out the scrap drop, they were probably going to literally hog the goodies.

Still, I already had the night vision scope/camera set up, so I settled in to wait. Within seconds, Angel showed up. It was so obviously our favorite coyote, the female who’s been our friend since she showed up as a yearling in 2011. No other Mearns coyote we’ve seen around here has her particular brand of slim, feminine beauty and grace. Even more convincingly, as I was filming her, she didn’t spook from the red IR light indicator. And even beyond that, when my tickly throat became too much and I let out a ripping cough from my range of a mere fifty feet, she didn’t even flinch.

Of all the coyotes in the world, only Angel trusts me enough for that. Our girl is still here. We thought we’d lost her.

Only Angel has the slim, feminine grace and beauty unmatched by any other coyote we know.

Only Angel has the slim, feminine grace and beauty unmatched by any other coyote we know.

Oh, she knows I'm there, all right, but the red IR light (as long as she knows it's me behind it) doesn't run her off this time.

Oh, she knows I’m there, all right, but the red IR light (as long as she knows it’s me behind it) doesn’t run her off this time.

Angel made good use of her time, snarfing up a leftover half of a chicken sandwich and other goodies.

Angel made good use of her time, snarfing up a leftover half of a chicken sandwich and other goodies.

It made my heart sing to know our Angel was still alive. She’s five years old now, not exactly a youngster in the tooth-and-claw world in which she lives. She’s lost at least one mate over the years, but praise be, she herself is still with us.

Not long after the above photo was taken, she lifted her head, looked back over her shoulder, and trotted swiftly out of sight. The reason became clear within seconds: The javelina herd had arrived.

A full coyote pack might go for a little one, but no solitary coyote in her right mind is going to challenge the pigs single handed. Or footed. Whatever.

The javelin herd had arrived.

The javelina herd had arrived.

Watching the peccaries, several things became clear:

1. This family herd of five animals would appear to be on the small side. Some online sources indicate javelina herds tend to number eight members or more, with fifty-three in one huge group.

2. While I’m not yet 100% certain, it looks like at least two of the three adults are boars. In the next photo, the “male factor” is extremely obvious in the pig on the right.

3. There are two smaller individuals, roughly “wiener pig” size. One of those, if found away from the adults by a full coyote pack, would definitely be too much temptation to resist.

4. Watching them eat, it’s obvious the peccaries are very comfortable with each other, no personal space required, and they often position themselves so that the grownups are facing different directions, the better to detect predators. I have absolutely zero doubt that when attacked, the little ones get in the middle behind the older pigs while the adults “fight the square” presenting speed, power, and tusks to any baby-eater who might try to slip past them.

The javelina family of five, with a boar on the right and one of the younger pigs barely seen.

The javelina family of five, with a boar on the right and one of the younger pigs barely seen.

The javelina on the left shows off its lower tusks.  (They have upper tusks to match.)  I would not care to get ripped by those.

The javelina on the left shows off its lower tusks. (They have upper tusks to match.) I would not care to get ripped by those.

What's up, Doc?

What’s up, Doc?

In summary, we’ve learned a lot about our local javelinas and coyotes in the past week or two. These insights may be available online or in a book. Somewhere. Maybe. But direct observation is a fine way to learn, and it’s more enjoyable, too.

Although we still don’t know why the bordered patch butterflies were attracted to the dried peccary poop.

8 thoughts on “Cochise County: The Coyote-Javelina Night War

  1. Interesting. I would not mind seeing this, but not too close to home.
    A coyote got in our yard the other night, and tried to grab a Blake meal. Luckily Katy heard her screech when it started and went running out to scare it off. She has 7 puncture wounds on her lower ribs and back, but when we took her to the vet, they cleaned them and said she would be fine. She is on antibiotics and she had some pain meds, but finished them. That coyote should stay out of our yard, ’cause David is ready with the shotgun. We have thought we spotted something out there but could not verify.

  2. Yay, Blake; not that many small pets survive coyote attacks. I’d share my night vision scope but only have the one and wouldn’t dare let it out of my grasp for a millisecond after seeing the night life we’ve seen around here since we got it. Until we purchased that, the best substitute we had was a Maglite, though I suppose holding a Maglite in the same hand cradling a long gun’s forend might be a little tricky.

    Could always tape the light in place, though–oh, wait. A Mossberg 500 is a pump shotgun, right? Taping a light to that wouldn’t likely work so well….

  3. We have a flashlight mount for the shotgun. It holds a 1-inch flashlight. Unfortunately it is not easy finding one that is 1-inch. Katy went barreling through the house so fast heading for the door that she is sure the coyote heard here coming and ran scared. Scared me, and David was right behind her grabbing the shotgun.

  4. I’ll bet she did spook the coyote: Thunder House!

    Looks like there might be some 1 inch tactical flashlight possibilities on Amazon. I searched “1 inch weapon light” and found a few that looked possible. Not cheap, but better than being blind at the wrong time.

  5. Is javelina poop huge or is it just the magic of your camera that makes it appear so?

    I didn’t know that a javelina can take a coyote, but then again I know little about either species since they’re not present in my part of the U.S.

    I always learn something when you arm yourself with your camera, Ghost. I appreciate you sharing your experiences with us.

  6. Sha, javelina poop is, I guess you could say, “medium huge” for the size of the animal. Those are not large butterflies in the photos, but they do measure a couple of inches of wingspan or so.

    One on one, it’s doubtful that a single coyote and a single adult javelina would even bother to mess with each other. I don’t know that a javelina can exactly “take” a coyote, but the thing is that a lone coyote can’t easily kill a collared peccary, either. The skunk pigs aren’t fast enough to chase down a coyote, but the peccaries are hell on defense, so if the numbers are anywhere near equal, it’s at best a Mexican standoff. But if a coyote (or two or three) gets a crack at a less-than-adult javelina, pork may well be on the dinner menu–whereas a family herd of javelinas is well able to defend against almost any direct coyote attack. The adult pigs fight the perimeter, keeping the coyotes from penetrating the wall of tusks to get to the babies, and in close quarters the pigs are QUICK.

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