Growling, clacking teeth , the rumble of hooves – as night falls at one of the United States’ most scenic golf clubs, sinister noises reverberate off the red-rock canyon walls. And when the Arizona sunshine breaks over Seven Canyons in the morning, the destruction is revealed. Sprawling mounds of ravaged turf blot the 7,000 – yard course like open wounds, soil and grass strewn in all directions across otherwise pristine fairways. The perpetrators? Javelina, a pig-like creature with raking canine teeth whose capacity for chaos in the town of Sedona has seen them become a viral sensation.
“When you come upon them and see them, it’s like The Tasmanian devil,” Seven Canyons general manager Dave Bisbee told CNN. “There’s turf flying all over the place, there’s grunting, there’s fighting. For rather small creatures, they do a lot of damage. “They can rototill some turf with those teeth … it is really disturbing when you see it.”
Pig-like, but not pigs. Javelina, also known as collared peccary or musk hogs, are members of the peccary family, a mammal species that originated in South America before venturing north into Arizona and other Southwestern states of the US.
With a white collar ringing gray-black fur, javelina typically grow three to four feet long and 19 inches tall, weighing in anywhere between 40 and 60 pounds, with a seven-and-a-half year average life span, according to the Arizona State Department of Game and Fish. Common to desert areas yet adaptable to a range of habitats, they have a predominantly herbivorous diet of cacti, bulbs and other plants but will also eat garbage, insects and – fatefully for Seven Canyons staff – worms.
Located at the base of the Vermilion Cliffs and encircled by the Coconino National Forest, the private course – with its nutrient-rich fairways and bountiful water hazards – presents an irresistible all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffet for a species looking to fatten up for winter. Earthworms wriggling in the top few inches of grass are a particular delicacy for the javelina, which are not strictly nocturnal but are most active after dark. Consequently, 25 to 35-strong herds – also known as squadrons – churn up expanses of turf in search of a midnight snack.
It’s a greenkeeping nightmare exacerbated by an extra-hot, bone-dry summer in the Grand Canyon state. Though Bisbee has had to deal with the peccaries six or seven times in his two-decade stint at the club, “not a drop of rain” between May 20 and August 20 has seen javelina activity escalate in the period since. Salvage efforts are akin to fixing an extra-large golf divot – turning the turf back over, applying some top dressing and finishing by seeding new grass into the existing turf.
Classified as a big-game species, it is illegal under state law to injure or kill javelina, “even if they are causing a problem,” with removal by the Arizona Game and Fish Department strictly a last resort. Most javelina do not survive forced relocation, the department said, often unable to find food, water, or shelter following separation from their herd, and prone to being killed by a predator. Six bull sharks inadvertently made their home on an Australian golf course.
Then they vanished
As a result, not feeding the animals and keeping them out using fencing and walls are advized as ways to discourage their presence. Beyond fencing, so far staff have banded together to plug the gaps as they appear, but it could be a nervy few weeks ahead. December signals the beginning of the non-growing season, effectively meaning the course will be stuck in whatever condition it’s in until springtime.
As falling temperatures push the worms deeper into the soil, edging them out of range of the javelina’s keen sense of smell, there is hope that Seven Canyons has endured the worst of the assault; yet financial scars will endure. The club will have spent between $150,000 and $300,000 in labor costs by the time the javelinas back away, Bisbee estimates, with a further $50,000 to $75,000 spent on additional seed, turf growth blankets and other restorative equipment. Yet there has been some consolation to the chaos – viral fame.
Bisbee was locked in a board meeting on October 22 when his phone began buzzing incessantly in his pocket. He feared the worst after seeing the message from the course’s assistant superintendent, Emily Casey, sat atop the missed call notifications: “Oh my god. I’m so sorry.”
Hours earlier, Casey had posted a video to X (formerly known as Twitter) of the javelina’s latest dose of destruction. It was a mere 30 second clip – and by no means her first post of such damage – but it spread like wildfire.
By the time an incredulous Bisbee responded, the video had 1.4 million views. Three weeks later, it’s at 32.9 million and counting. Come along with me on my carnage (I mean course) check this morning. What should be one of the most beautiful golf courses in the country is being destroyed by herds of javelina. If anyone has a contact in AZ state govt that can help us find a solution please pass it along.
Head spinning after a plethora of interview requests, from National Geographic to the Wall Street Journal, Bisbee is left to ponder just why – at a course home to bear, coyotes and a range of other species – it’s the small pig-like creatures that have turned the eyes of the internet towards Seven Canyons. “If we could figure that out, we’d be doing that every week,” Bisbee said, laughing. “If anything this at least has put us in front of millions of people who didn’t know where Seven Canyons was.
“And they’re a little more educated on what javelina are!”
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