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Officials: Javelina-human meetings on the rise in Arizona

PHOENIX -- When Vince and Marcia Cherry venture outside their house in central Scottsdale, they take precautions.

They typically limit their outings to daylight hours, and they carry a big stick and chemical repellant. Vince Cherry said he has even carried a gun.

The threat they face isn't human: It's an aggressive, 50-pound collared peccary, or javelina, that began menacing them and their dog, Bella, about a year ago. The animal is typically accompanied by another javelina that the Cherrys think is female.

``They came after us,'' Marcia Cherry said recently, standing in the spot where one of the encounters occurred.

Cherry described being overcome by adrenaline when she ran toward the animal, swung her stick and hit it ``right on the nose.''

The animals fled, but the attack left an indelible psychological mark.

``It was extremely frightening,'' Cherry said.

The number of reported human-javelina encounters over the past decade vary from year to year and belie the actual number of incidents, according to officials from the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

A total of 95 encounters were reported in 2003, 364 in 2006, and 159 in 2009. In that time, the number of reported bites have fluctuated: one in 2005, 13 in 2006, three in 2010, and 12 in 2011. As 2013 was ending, 347 javelina encounters and seven bites had been reported to state wildlife officials.

Overall, human-javelina encounters are becoming more frequent as urban development grows past the fringes of wilderness areas, according to Game and Fish spokeswoman Lynda Lambert.

``As that happens, yes, you are more likely to create instances or situations where wildlife is coming in closer proximity and interacting with people,'' Lambert said.

Experts say javelinas typically try to avoid humans. They can become aggressive if they feel threatened, or if they hear or smell a dog -- a natural predator. Javelinas defend themselves using their long tusks.

A Scottsdale woman and her dog were attacked on Thanksgiving during an early-morning walk in a park near 96th Street and Via Linda, about a mile from the Cherrys' home.

Heidi Diedrich was knocked to the ground, and her dog -- a 2-year-old pit-bull mix named JoJo -- was nearly disemboweled by javelinas.

After thousands of dollars in veterinary costs, JoJo is on the way to a full recovery, but Diedrich said she's modified her behavior because of the attack.

``I don't take him (JoJo) out in the dark anymore because I'm scared to death,'' she said, adding that when she does go out, she carries a large metal flashlight for defense.

Other encounters that made headlines this year:

A 63-year-old Prescott man got into legal trouble for shooting and killing a javelina in March. Doug Newbold said he was defending himself, but Game and Fish officials said Newbold acted irresponsibly.

In September, 10 javelina carcasses were found in Scottsdale after being struck by one or more vehicles near 132nd Street and Shea Boulevard, according to state wildlife officials. Two surviving baby javelinas were rescued by a non-profit wildlife-conservation organization.

Also in September, two javelinas were caught roaming the streets of downtown Casa Grande, according to the local newspaper. Police said it's not unusual for the animals to be spotted inside city limits, but rare to find them downtown.

State wildlife officials are reluctant to relocate javelinas -- the animals can spread disease to other herds and are unable to find enough food and water to survive in unfamiliar terrain.

Lambert said there's not much her agency can do in a situation with a dangerous or nuisance animal, such as the javelinas that are around the Cherrys' property. Officials can intervene only if someone is injured or there is a swell of reports of incidents attributed to a specific herd or animal.

``Basically, this animal needs to be behavior-modified,'' she said. That means removing all food sources and creating unpleasant conditions for animals that venture near, such as spraying them with a hose.

The Cherrys said they've done those things and are frustrated by what they perceive to be Game and Fish's lack of action.

But Lambert said it's not enough for one family to try and expel a wild animal: ``Everybody in the area needs to do it.''

``If we take a javelina out and the attractants remain -- if the neighbors are still being careless with leaving trash out or whatever -- other (javelinas) are just going to come back into the area,'' Lambert said.

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