Back off, collared peccary. The carrots are for the rabbits. Yeah, like javelinas (Pecari tajacu) listen, right? How to block those bullies from taking the snacks intended for the defenseless little desert cottontail rabbits who hang around the Border Fort…that was undeniably the question.
It hadn’t always been that way. We began dropping a carrot or two for a bunny to find in 2010. A pair of canyon towhees snagged a carrot slice here and there, but for years we never had a PP, a peccary problem. For one thing, we’re friends with a local coyote family that dens nearby, and the coyotes–traditional enemies of the javelinas–seemed to keep the skunk pigs at bay. Additionally, we never saw the javelinas during daylight hours, and we seldom saw enough hoof prints near our residence to be a cause for concern.
But be careful what you wish for. Year in, year out, my Canon PowerShot and I yearned for a chance to film the elusive peccaries. I shouldn’t have done that.
Every other major mammalian species in the area had made its appearance in one way or another, but the shy piggy types kept to deep cover until darkness fell. I really wanted to round out my collection of website pages. Sure, it was understandable, but I should have quit while I was ahead.
A few weeks ago, the local javelina herd figured out there were snacks available at the Border Fort every single day, or nearly so.
No matter that the experts loudly disagree. To us, these bristly, triangular headed critters (who may have been the inspiration for the shaping of the triangular headed cartoon hero, Phineas of Phineas and Ferb) look like pigs, act like pigs, and more or less sound like pigs. Never mind the unusual musk gland that gives them the skunk pig label. To us, they’re pigs.
And when it comes to food, a pig is a pig is a pig.
Determined. Stubborn. They do not listen. They’re not particularly afraid of humans, especially if ignoring a loud human will get them (you got it) food.
Knowing that from observation, what were we to do? We couldn’t just shoot them and be done with it for a number of reasons:
1. They’re considered game animals and are therefore illegal to kill unless you have a hunting license and, in Arizona at least, a javelina tag.
2. Each javelina herd defends its territory against other herds; if we did eliminate this herd, another would undoubtedly move in to fill the vacuum, gaining us nothing.
3. We don’t actually dislike them. As we’ve gotten to know the five individuals that currently make up the herd, we’ve discovered that they can be disarmingly charming. Their eyesight is extremely poor, but their hearing works all right. When we talk to them, they listen, often (especially when it’s my Critter Whisperer wife doing the talking) showing clear interest in being friendly. If we were foolish enough to consider such a thing, Pam could probably talk one into coming on into the house and curling up for a nap with her.
4. They do have one hugely beneficial trait: They eat rattlesnakes, big time. As far as we’re concerned, they’re welcome to all the rattlers they can find around here.
We just want our bunnies to be able to enjoy their carrots. Today, one of the cottontails hopped into view at the usual carrot time, then sat, looking around, clearly wondering, “Golly gee, where are the carrots?” The javelinas had already come out in broad daylight and had eaten every one.
The mature boar has a name now; he’s Bob Pig, and he’s pretty bold. It’s a sow who pushes the envelope the farthest, though; we call her Brassy. Bob and Brassy, the bossy peccary un-pigs. Okay, so the coyotes can fend for themselves. For that matter, the canines will eat any young javelina they can catch. There’s an ancient war between coyote and javelina, each species generally able to pretty much hold its own in one way or another.
But not the little bunnies. We definitely needed to do something to help out our babies.
I came up with a plan. If anyone else has produced a similar solution, I don’t know about it, so I decided to document the process as well as the results. If it works, the javelinas will eventually realize they can no longer find any food near the house, and they’ll quit showing up at all hours of the day or night. If it doesn’t work, we’re back to square one and I look like an idiot–which would definitely not be the first time.
The project: Build several T forms from six inch PVC pipe, each 3 1’2 foot vertical stem being sunk into the ground to serve as an anchor post, capped at the bottom end and filled with dirt. Each crossbar will also add up to 3 1/2 feet. Once the posts are buried firmly and the cross-pipes in place, bank the sides with dirt and then put carrots in the centers. Train the rabbits to know where to find their snacks.
Pam can’t comprehend what on Earth I’m talking about. Hopefully, our readers will understand it once they see the photos.
December 5, 2015
Step 1: Fire up the backhoe and dig a trench. Yes, I could have simply dug three post holes instead, but I’d still be digging.
Step 2: Cut 20 feet of 6″ PVC pipe as follows:
–40 inch pieces, 3 each.
–20 inch pieces, 6 each.
Step 3: Glue a PVC cap to one end of each 40″ piece of pipe. Note: When I did this, the caps did not want to slide on easily like smaller diameter pipe caps will do. I ended up having to ground-pound the sets to get them to seat deeply.
Step 4: Pace the three pipe-plus-cap sets in the trench at the desired intervals, use a level to make sure each set is vertical or close to it, and fill in enough dirt around the pipe set to give it some stability. The upper end of the pipe should rise a few inches above the surrounding terrain.
Step 5: Back fill the rest of the trench and also fill the pipe pieces with dirt. This provides the greatest possible stability for these “anchor posts”–which need to be strong because collared peccary are real pigs when it comes to being stubborn about food. If they push the feeders in an attempt to reach the carrots inside (and they will), the ground anchor posts need all the strength they can get.
In addition, the dirt at the tops of the pipes will be the primary feeding spots; the carrots will be dropped right on top of that dirt.
That’s all that could be accomplished today. The essential tees that will tie everything together are on order but will not arrive for a couple of days. However, here’s what the positioning will look like, as seen from the kitchen window. Pam and I frequently watch from that window as the rabbits chow down on their carrots, and the bun-buns are used to being fed in this exact location.
December 8, 2015
The tee joints came in today, so I was able to finish the project as follows.
Step 6: Glue the top pipe sections together.
Step 7: Glue the top pipe tee sections to the buried anchor post pipes.
Step 8: Bury the exposed pipes, leaving the ends open with little “dirt ramps” for the desert cottontail rabbits to use but covering the central portions of the pipes. The dirt mounds are designed to help the pipes resist twisting, should the javelinas decide to shove on the pipe in carrot-deprived frustration.
A note about the positioning of the pipes. This feeding area for the rabbits is viewed from the kitchen window more often than from any other place, so each top pipe was aimed directly at that window as it was glued onto the anchor post pipe. This allows us to see all the way through each pipe without leaving the house. If no daylight shows in a given pipe, there is definitely a rabbit in there. The from-the-window photos don’t show that because I was standing in front of that window (outside of the house) when I took the pictures and the angle wasn’t quite right.
Now for the ultimate test. Pam wasn’t convinced the bunnies would be willing to go inside the pipe to access the carrots piled in the middle (on top of the dirt in the center tee positions, atop the anchor posts). Given a trail of carrots to follow for a while, I was pretty sure they’d get the idea fairly quickly.
The feeding process goes like this:
1. Dump a little pile of carrots (or carrot pieces or slices) just inside an open pipe end.
2. Using a “carrot pusher”, move the pile to the center, on top of the anchor post dirt and well out of the reach of any probing javelina snout. An empty three liter plastic water jug works perfectly for this. Arrowhead markets water that way, as do some other companies. For me, the right distance turned out to be pushing the jug with my fingers until all but about three inches of my forearm had entered the pipe; it will of course be different for each “carrot installer”.
3. Until the rabbits get used to going after those center piles of carrots, make a trail of carrots leading from open ground into the pipe.
4. Sit back and observe!
First day results were gratifying. During daylight hours when the sun was still up, at least one rabbit braved the big scary pipe to munch “center carrots”. As deep dusk rolled in, there was a point in time when two rabbits zipped right on into two separate pipes without hesitation; it seemed like they felt safer doing that when the couldn’t see such bright lights at the ends of the tunnels. All of the bunnies appeared to really appreciate the piled-up mounds of dirt, most likely feeling safer with a few mini-hills between them and the wide open country. Beyond that, the wabbit telegraph had gone out; at least eight rabbits showed up before full dark, counting two that get their carrots in another spot (where we’ll be installing another set of feeder pipes before long).
Part one is a success: The rabbits are already figuring out the pipe feeders.
The javelinas will determine the success (or failure, which really isn’t an option) of part two: Do the anti-peccary pipes keep the snouted snackers at bay?
I submit that they do. The easiest way to tell was simply to go out with a Maglite a few hours after dark. By that time, at least Brassy (a javelina sow) would have been over near the house, looking to clean up the carrots left on the ground. It’s a guaranteed thing; once she realized the goodies were there on a regular basis, she made it her mission to never miss a night.
It looked like she’d been there, all right; there wasn’t a single carrot piece left on open ground. It’s possible the rabbits could have gotten all of those, but not likely; they usually leave a few scraps for later, early dawn tidbits to start their long eared days. The peccaries leave…nothing.
Inside the pipes, the “trail carrots” leading to the center piles were all gone, but the rabbits most likely did get all of those. They seemed to really like chowing down on near-the-entrance goodies.
The best evidence, however, involved the center piles. In two of the three pipes, those piles appeared to remain untouched. That’s okay; the bunnies may not have eaten them yet, but they now know where they are, and the piggy snouts obviously couldn’t touch them. In one pipe’s center, only a few carrot pieces were left, having been partially munched in place by the first bold bun-bun to go pipe exploring.
Cool. Very, very cool. The anti-javelina rabbit feeder design is a winner.
It looks like we have a winner.
Any reader considering a similar project might well be interested in cost. Our cash outlay amounted to almost exactly $250. With the design now proven, we’re going to duplicate it, adding three more identical feeders in another area where we regular feed our little cotton tailed friends, bringing the total for six feeders to around $500.
That may sound like a lot on the face of it, but it’s far less money that would be required to build a yard fence capable of keeping collared peccaries from infiltrating the premises in search of food. Add to that the simple fact that we have zero desire to fence out (or in) any of the wildlife inhabiting the acreage we share and it becomes a no brainer. The javelinas only hang around the Border Fort when they believe there’s something to be gained by doing so; they may be pigs, but they’re not into wasted effort.
After all, the herd is growing. They need calories.