How my garden was rescued from boar-dom

They snort. They smell. They have long, straight tusks, or "javelins," thus the Spanish-derived name, javelina (pronounced "hav-uh-LEE-nuh.") They want to break into my garden and uproot cacti, striped agave, and potted petunias; they eat the tender roots, the leaves, the petals - the spines! Once, one fell into our pool, and dog-paddled several frenetic laps before (thankfully) scrambling out.

It has been four years since my husband, four daughters, and I moved to the Southwest. We used to live on the East Coast and were well acquainted with raccoons, skunks, and opossums. We had never heard of the collared peccary, or javelina, a wild boar-like creature about the size of a dog.

Javelina are stocky, have a short neck and a piglike snout. Along the rear of their backs are musk glands, which exude an odor not unlike skunk. As a means of communication, they rub their heads against each other's scent glands, creating a communal "perfume." The odor serves, along with grunting sounds, as a way for the myopic herd to locate one another. Now that we are aware of their presence among us, we have found several trampled paths where the javelina regularly migrate from our property to the neighbors, who used to feed them.

We have fed them too, several times.

On our first Halloween, we naively left carved pumpkins out on our wooden porch overnight. In the morning, their faces were eaten off.

The next night, the herd was back - apparently, javelina love pumpkins. We heard their hooves clomping on the porch, and their snorting. We peered out the front door, and there they were - gathered in a semicircle, staring at us with tiny, glittering eyes. They huffed and snuffled but stood fairly still, like dogs waiting to be tossed a bone.

"They want us to feed them!" cried Allison, our eldest.

Since then, they have discovered our garbage cans and chicken food, conveniently stored in the garage. Their tusks are razor-sharp, and they have given dogs nasty lacerations - humans too, if you get in their way, corner them, or disturb their young.

This element of danger made it quite exciting when the javelina raided the garage. Our girls found that if they cracked open the house door that attaches to the garage, they could "shoot" the javelina with high-powered water guns. The offended herd would dash off, temporarily deterred. This would give us enough time, however, to close the garage door, securing the tasty garbage inside.

A worse problem occurred during the summer monsoon and winter rainy seasons. We have a backyard full of plants that I lovingly cultivate: evening primrose, pincushion cactus, night-blooming cereus, and others. Normally, a wooden gate keeps out marauders. When it rains, though, the dry Sonoran Desert becomes humid. Wooden doors swell. The gate to my backyard paradise did not completely shut.

I began to sleep lightly. At the first sound of snorting, I would bolt out of bed and throw open the sliding glass door and, much to my husband's amusement, flail my arms and yell, chasing the javelina out the open gate. Then I'd barricade the gate with boulders and patio furniture.

Our youngest child came up with the idea for a "javelina alarm." Mounted to the frame above the gate, a siren was rigged to a tripwire. When the gate was opened, the alarm, 90 decibels strong, cut loose. I'd jump up, grab a water gun, and scatter the herd, saving my flowers another night.

We had to connect the alarm during the day, too. Once, a rather young man, a fill-in, we think, for our neighbor's pool cleaning person, had the misfortune to step into the backyard. As he leaned against the gate, the alarm blared.

"Aaaahh!" he screamed as he stumbled, dropping his equipment. We never saw him again.

We lived this way for quite some time.

Now that we are more acclimated to the area, we are getting used to our hoofed friends. We smile as they troop across our driveway, grunting, babies in tow, trampling cactus and eating as they go.

These days, I sleep soundly. My husband came up with the perfect solution to protect my garden. It's revolutionary, ingenious - and why didn't I think of it? A hook for the gate.

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