Aransas Wildlife Preserve: A National Treasure

The semi-darkness slides gently into daybreak. The day is new, fresh, and with that early morning coolness that hints of warmth latter on. My wife and I greet this sun-up with excited anticipation. Southern Texas is a long way from home, but the distance has not dissuaded us. One advantage of early rising is the glorious feeling of having the world to one’s self. This day is no different, as we are the only ones on the refuge. The gate opened early, and we were waiting to take advantage of the situation.

But now, the park is ours alone. White-Tailed Deer are everywhere. They still feel secure because the darkness has just recently lifted. They graze the meadows beside the road, and being surprised by our sudden appearance, dissolve into cover as we pass. Bird calls break the stillness and their flitting from bush to bush catches our attention. From the brush, a pair of ears sticks up. I hit the brakes. A female Peccary is foraging with her litter of babies. Unlike their mother, who is dark and solid colored, they have stripes running the length of their backs. Now that we have detected them, the pigs dash for the wooded areas. Around a bend, appears an animal whose hips undulate in a most ungraceful gait. It is a Raccoon. He sees us and takes refuge in a water pipe. The waiting game for a photo begins – but I finally get one.

The gentle meadows and woods of Aransas are bordered on the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Most species of shorebirds find a home here, especially the endangered Whooping Crane, for which the refuge was set aside. A boat trip is necessary to see them at a shorter distance. They are in groups of three.

Upon leaving the park, there is still one more major treat – ALLIGATORS. A pair has chosen this moment to come ashore to bask in the mid-day sun. What grand, primitive, animals! Their hides are heavy and dark and somehow don’t seem totally real. They have jaws that can open “a mile” to reveal formidable teeth. They are content, however, to allow me to get close-up pictures.

This day, long looked forward to, is memorable – and this place, is one of contentment and inner joy!

A White-Tailed Buck with forward sweeping antlers

A White-Tailed Buck with forward sweeping antlers

Collared Peccary – Pig of the Desert

I have always loved pigs. They are so intelligent and there is nothing cuter than a little pig. My father always had a few pigs around on his farm and my first years out of college, I worked on a hog farm. Being around swine can teach you a lot.

However, the pig mentioned above is of a different sort. It is a desert scrub species and in Spanish is known as the Javelina. It is smaller than our domestic hog at only 35 to 60 pounds. It seems strange that a small swine should have a longer (140-150 day) gestation period than our larger (3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days) domestic species.

It is the only Native American swine species. The razorback, found in the south and the University of Arkansas mascot, is also wild but sprang from domestic hogs (feral) that got loose. The Peccary runs in bands of six to a dozen. Like all hogs, it can’t sweat and so must stay in close proximity to a water hole. However, stiff, bristly hair helps to defer heat by partially shading the skin.

Prickly Pear Cactus and Agaves (Century Plant) are a major part of their diet. The thorns on the cactus don’t seem to bother them as they can eat around them. Also, the inside of the plant contains a lot of moisture – essential to a desert life style.

This pig has poor eye sight but compensates with excellent hearing. It is not threatening to humans unless cornered, at which time it can become very aggressive.

I had a stuffed Peccary in my high school Biology classroom, but it is always fascinating to meet this species, in real life, when ever we are in southern Arizona or Texas. Once, in Texas, my wife and I were strolling just slightly south of our campground looking for birds in the scrub. Carolyn, hearing a noise, turned to look. Slightly uphill from her, and almost nose to nose, was a Peccary. She went one way and the pig the other. A memorable experience for her!

(Against a flowery background)