The Fall and Rise and Lindbergh: A Javelina Story

I have been working with javelinas in Texas for nearly a year. My first encounter with them occurred at Big Bend National Park and I have since visited groups all over Texas. The group that I am currently most fond of–partially because they are easiest to hang out with and partially because of the wonderful company I have when visiting the property in Texas Hill Country–has generated plenty of interesting stories. One such story is that of Lindbergh (namesake: Charles Lindbergh): so named because, as my collaborator Roger says, “he flies solo.”

Two baby javelinas in Texas Hill Country. Photo by me

When I first visited Roger’s property out in the Texas Hill Country, there were two fairly young reds (the name for baby javelinas because of their color) which brought the total family number up to eight. Whether following the group (also called a squadron) along the top of the hill: a primary activity area for the group on Roger’s property, or sitting with them in the yard as they feed on birdseed or corn, the group generally operated together. Traveling, resting, and feeding would be gregarious, only rarely interrupted by very brief bouts of conflict.

A brief disagreement over feeding space. Photo by my wife, Dr. Sarah Pollock

Roger describes these brief outbursts as akin to sibling squabbling: “mom, he’s touching me!”. In my time with the javelinas, these scary-looking but brief and innocuous disagreements have been rare. While these squabbles break the peace, the dynamics of the group have always gone immediately back to normal… until Lindbergh.

Lindbergh is one of the younger male javelinas in the group and in my experience, has always be an integrated member of the family. However, beginning at the beginning of 2021, he often began to show up to the feeder alone which sparked some curiosity from Roger. If Lindy was at the deer feeder or drip pond and the rest of the group showed up, he would back away and sometimes even be chased off. Lindbergh could often be seen feeding alongside the resident deer instead of with his squadron.

Lindbergh feeding with deer. Photo credit to Roger Gray

This pattern was really interesting and we wanted to understand something about the dynamic that led to Lindbergh’s exile from the group. Javelinas often remain in their family group for their entire lives although it is not totally strange to have a member leave. This most often occurs with males but not always (Sowls 1997). Even more interesting, Roger reported that, while Lindy tended to roam alone, he was sometimes welcomed to feed alongside the rest of the group after some brief tension. Other times, he would be seen with another javelina (we think a female), apart from the rest of the group.

Shortly after Roger noticed this new community dynamic a new pair of reds was born.

One of the first two babies born in 2021. Photo credit to Roger Gray

One hypothesis of Lindbergh’s exile was a result of the incoming babies. Roger reports that the group fluctuates between 6-12 members. We have not quite figured out what happens to members that disappear. Are the killed (predator, vehicle)? Maybe but we have found no evidence of dead javelinas in the area, either on the road or in their range. Do they leave to join or form a new group? Again, maybe. The problem is, none of the neighbors report ever seeing javelinas on their property. Lindbergh’s exile from the group could be a consequence of maintaining group size homeostasis.

There are a couple of reasons why this explanation is not totally satisfying. First, there is plenty of resources in their range to support a population of ten (the original eight plus the two new babies). Between the deer feeder, bird seed, and dispersed prickly pear (a javi favorite), ashe juniper, hackberry, and Texas persimmon, there should be no real struggle for food. Finally, Lindbergh has a sibling and his sibling is not receiving the same treatment. Now this could be due to a sex bias. Maybe his sibling is a female and so is not as likely to be the target of expulsion.

Another potential explanation is that Lindbergh slighted the group in some way, broken some rule or norm, that resulted in punishment. I met with a colleague, Dr. John Hartigan to discuss this idea. In his latest book, Shaving the Beasts (2020, Hartigan ethnographically explores the social behavior/ritual of wild horses in Spain as it relates to the a human ritual: repas das bestas. As such, I thought that Hartigan would be able to provide some insight into the curious expulsion of Lindy. Hartigan leaned towards this hypothesis based on the social dynamics observed among the horses. However much I like this hypothesis, there is no way for me to test it.

Me observing some Lindbergh solo feeding. Photo by my wife, Dr. Sarah Pollock

While I’m not sure what led to Lindbergh’s downfall in the group, I could see the aftermath. Between my visits to Roger’s property and Roger’s documentation of the community dynamics, I was able to see Lindy’s attempts to reintegrate himself into the group. Somedays, while Lindbergh appeared to be operating apart from the group, he was able to join into feeding with the group with only minor perturbance. Other days, the group seemed to ostracize him. Roger sent me a video of Lindy being accosted by another group member, while he cowered, shaking in a submissive position. There is one group member that is still seen socializing with Lindy. Of course, without knowing the relation they have to one another, it is difficult to make any sense of this dynamic.

In the meantime, Lindbergh and Roger have developed a different relationship than Roger has with the rest of the group. The javelinas will feed around Roger and rest in the shade of the yard without much concern for Roger (or his canine companion, Dobie). They even brought hours-old babies to the yard to feed on bird seed and corn despite ample food supplies away from human eyes. This indicates to me a great level of trust that exists between Roger and his javelina community.

Lindbergh, after being exiled from the group, appeared to Roger to be lonely and the aggression that he received from the javelina group kept his stress levels high. Roger took it upon himself to fill some of the social needs that Lindy was lacking and so made an effort to talk with him and feed him apart from the group when Lindbergh visited without the rest of the group present. Despite being exiled and downtrodden, Lindbergh has become resituated in the multispecies community of Roger’s land.

This occurred as Roger has actively found ways to participate in the multispecies community that doesn’t create artificial distance between himself and the other beings that occupy and move through the space. The property is set up to communicate to other-than-human animals that the space is welcome to them. In turn, animals use the space and afford Roger the space to watch and photograph them. This takes work and trust from all the community members. It also requires communication and understanding across species boundaries.

While Lindbergh experienced his downfall in his family, he made a new place in the broader more-than-human community. This situation is still developing and it will be exciting to see how they community continues to reshape. What is Lindy’s future? Who knows? What this does illustrate is that multispecies communities are flexible and that participation in the community is a point of hope for all members.

Lindbergh on a solo visit to the feeder. Photo by me

References

Hartigan Jr, John. Shaving the Beasts: Wild Horses and Ritual in Spain. U of Minnesota Press, 2020.

Sowls, Lyle K. Javelinas and other peccaries: their biology, management, and use. No. QL 737. U59. S68 1997. 1997.

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