Two Sedona residents who had been feeding herds of wild javelina were bitten by the boar-like animals in separate incidents last month.
The two cases have led state officials to again urge the public to never feed wildlife.
Even though the relatively dry fall and winter have affected natural watering holes and vegetation, conditions aren’t such that animals like javelina are in dire need of human food or water, experts said.
“We're not seeing really desperate wildlife coming into residential areas like we've seen in really bad drought,” said Janie Agyagos, a Forest Service wildlife biologist based in Sedona.
There are still some natural pools of water available while many manmade earthen tanks across the forest have been filled by either precipitation or volunteers who haul water there, said Shelly Shepherd, spokeswoman with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
“Even though we have dry conditions, wildlife are moving to find those (water) sources, and even with the small amount of precipitation we've had, there are still locations where things are going to be greening up soon,” Shepherd said.
People who do feed wildlife are “hurting more than helping,” she said.
In both Sedona cases, for example, Arizona Game and Fish’s policy required the lethal removal of nearby javelina because the animals bit and attacked people, Shepherd said.
In the first incident last month, a 79-year-old woman was bitten by a javelina at her west Sedona home as she tried to stop the javelina from attacking her dogs. She had previously been feeding the animals at her home. In the second case an elderly man was bitten by a javelina as he was feeding a herd of the animals in his backyard in Oak Creek Village.
Between the two incidents, about 20 javelina living within one quarter mile of the residences had to be removed and killed by the Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, Shepherd said. Asked why the department wouldn’t instead move the animals somewhere else away from people, Shepherd said it is getting harder and harder to find appropriate places to put problem animals and it takes many staff hours to capture and transport them.
There also was a rabies concern because a javelina in the area tested positive for rabies about eight months ago, she said.
The city of Flagstaff is one of several cities and counties in the state that have ordinances addressing the feeding of wildlife, Shepherd said. Flagstaff’s ordinance prohibits the feeding of wildlife with exceptions for birds and squirrels.
Feeding animals causes them to lose their natural fear of humans and become dependent on non-natural food sources, which generally don’t provide the nutrients animals need, Shepherd said.
“The practice puts the person and their neighbors and other wildlife at risk,” Game and Fish wrote in a release.
Arizona Game and Fish hasn’t seen any increase in reports of wild animal sightings around Flagstaff this winter, though staff have gotten calls about javelina feeding in areas near Williams, Shepherd said. She said wildlife will naturally be moving around more this year because food and water resources are harder to find.
With bears, for example, there is a good chance they have been moving in and out of their dens this winter seeking more food sources because they didn’t get enough in the fall, Shepherd said.
“Conditions are dry. Of course. But wildlife have instincts and can find food and water sources,” she said.