A couple of weeks ago I got a surprise on my morning walk. As you can see from the photo above, I encountered a family of javelinas in one of the parks in my neighborhood. They weren’t happy to see me, and most of them ran quickly by (making them appear somewhat blurry in this predawn photo). One, however, stopped to face me a couple of times and raised its back leg, clearly threatening me if I got any closer. Since I had stopped in order to let them go by (and my other option was to climb the rock-strewn bank behind me), I chose to remain as still and nonthreatening as possible. It worked, and they went on their way.
The encounter got me pondering the challenges wild animals have in coexisting with us. Some get along fine. Hummingbirds take advantage of our birdfeeders (and so do bats and wily woodpeckers). Alley cats and racoons have learned to dig for tasty treasure in our city trash bins. Rabbits proliferate on the abundant weeds and grasses we grow in our suburban landscapes.
Javelinas are mostly herbivores, although they’ve been known to eat lizards and rodents. Their primary native desert diet consists of mesquite beans and agave and prickly pear plants (yes, the spines don’t seem to bother them!). They’re also happy munching on the roots and greens plants that we humans have imported into our neighborhoods. (Javelinas really like to feast on Halloween pumpkins!)
Of course, javelinas have been in this neighborhood a lot longer than I have—thousands of years. This is really their territory, and I’m the interloper. I wonder if they have any way to communicate with each other about how radically their territory has been changed over the past century or so. I wonder if they find suburbia confusing or if it’s like a gigantic amusement park to explore—or both. They’ve obviously had negative encounters with humans or they wouldn’t be so fearful and threatening whenever there’s an interspecies encounter.
That fear grieves me, yet I know it’s also an innate reaction to the presence of a large predator—especially since the javelina family I encountered included a youngster. Coexisting requires a delicate dance between proving our right to be here and expressing our willingness to share this crowded world. Of course, some groups of creatures have been more willing to coexist than others, over the centuries.
I invite you to spend some time in nature and reflect on the wild animals with which you’re coexisting. Like me, you probably don’t have to go far from your home to find animals that are doing their best to live alongside you, even if they frequently do their best to stay out of sight. What do you notice? What comes to mind? What does coexisting look like for you?