Javelina: Halloween Pumpkin Thieves

By Steve Shadley
Published: Friday, October 31, 2014 - 6:05am
Updated: Friday, October 31, 2014 - 2:58pm
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(Photo by Steve Shadley - KJZZ)
My Jack-O-Lantern. It's not my best work but there's always next year!
(Courtesy of Arizona Game and Fish)
Javelina may eat that pumpkin right off your front porch.
(Photo by Steve Shadley - KJZZ)
Arizona Game and Fish Urban Wildlife Specialist Darren Julian outside of his Mesa office

Trick-or-Treaters won’t be alone in the search for sweet snacks this Halloween. Here’s a warning: Anyone who decorates the outside of their home with real pumpkins might be visited by wild animals in search of food.  These “bumps in the night” aren’t always dressed in Halloween costumes.

Halloween wouldn’t be complete without a traditional Jack-O-Lantern. So this week I bought a medium size, slightly lopsided pumpkin to decorate my home. I grabbed a carving tool and got down to work, careful not to lose a finger.

My knife wasn't very sharp. The pumpkin smelled great as I was grabbing all the gooey stuff from the inside.

Finally, my Jack-O-Lantern is finished. I wanted to put the pumpkin outside to decorate the walkway to my house, but wildlife officials say it could attract animals.

Darren Julian is an Urban Wildlife specialist with Arizona Game and Fish.

Julian and I met outside of his office in Mesa. We walked about a hundred yards away from the building to the edge of the desert in hopes of finding some wildlife. This is where you might see one critter with a healthy appetite for pumpkins:  the peccary, better known in these parts as javelina.

“These javelina are following their nose and if you’ve got a pumpkin out there that they can smell, they’re going to find it,” Julian said.

Javelina look like a wild pig, but Julian said they aren’t related. However, javelina do have a pig-like snout. They have coarse bristly hair and the older ones even have sharp, tusk-like teeth.  Usually, javelina eat barrel cactus and plant roots, but when Halloween arrives, sometimes they march out of the desert into the neighborhoods.

“We do see them use these natural washes as travel corridors. For example, Indian Bend Wash in Scottsdale. Javelina have come off the McDowell Mountains and pushed their way through there. And we’ve actually found Javelina on Camelback Mountain,” Julian said. 

I’ve even seen Javelina in the city limits.  About 20 years ago a friend and I were hiking Phoenix South Mountain and we ran into a small herd of the animals.  They came out of nowhere and before we knew it they surrounded us, with their noses in the air, trying to smell us. Javelina don’t see too well and after a few minutes they walked on by like we weren’t there. 

So they are around urban areas and Arizona Game and Fish hears citizen complaints, especially around Halloween.

Probably more than anything, they are calling the police saying hooligans or kids are out there destroying pumpkins. That’s not always the case, some areas it’s probably the javelina that are coming in and tearing up the pumpkins and making quick food of them,” Julian said.

Arizona Game and Fish reminds us that it’s illegal to feed wild animals in some parts of the state. Violators could receive a fine. Besides, javelinas can be mean and aggressive.

“When they are agitated you’ll see them clicking their teeth, or popping their teeth, I mean like this…th…th…th…th.  Or the sound to warn the others is almost like a woof sound, like woof, woof, woof," Julian said.

If you spot javelina while you’re camping or they show up in your yard, make a loud noise to scare them off. Julian said pepper spray is also effective and it won’t hurt them. So when you’re walking around in the dark tonight and you hear this noise…

“Woof, Woof, Woof, not like a bark, but a woof,” Julian said.  

It could be a ghost, a witch, maybe a werewolf, but it might just be a javelina looking for a piece of tasty pumpkin. Happy Halloween! 





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