The peccaries eagerly pushed and shoved, and their dark hooves churned the sand into a dust cloud. They squealed and bit each other in their haste to slake their thirst. Forgotten was the danger that might lie in wait at the water hole.
Suddenly an unknown sound startled the herd. For an instant, the small gray animals with their collars of white stood motionless. The stiff hairs on their necks and backs bristled. Then one barked sharply in warning, and the spell was broken. Abruptly they stampeded, discharging a strong, musky scent from a gland located on the ridge of their backs. Males, females, half-grown young, and even the newborn peccaries were swept along in a mad rush to escape.
One peccary, no bigger than a cottontail rabbit, lost his footing and fell. Though the others tried to avoid trampling the fallen animal, one flying hoof struck him hard. Stunned by the blow, the little animal lay still, his eyes closed. Blood trickled from his head. Only the slight rise and fall of his belly and the occasional twitch of his nubbin of a tail showed that he was alive.
Several ants from a nearby anthill were out scouting for bits of food to carry back to their colony. One of the foragers found its way blocked by a strange object lying in the sand. It scurried up the long, hairless snout to investigate. Another ant followed, then another. Soon there was such a parade of curious insects that the ticklings of their threadlike legs roused the little peccary.
He shook his head and blinked his eyes. He snorted and coughed the grains of sand from his nose and mouth. Then he struggled up onto his wobbly legs. Except for the ants hurrying away and a red-tailed hawk sailing overhead, the little peccary was quite alone.
For the first time in his short life, the peccary was separated from his mother, his twin, and the rest of the herd. Confused and afraid, the little animal took a few hesitant steps forward, then back. Finally he limped slowly away to search for the herd.
The sun was setting, and a cool wind blew down from the mountains. The peccary shivered and felt the first pangs of hunger. An older peccary would have eaten almost anything, from a spiny cactus to a poisonous rattlesnake. But the little one had known only the nourishment of his mother’s milk.
Aimlessly he wandered. Now and then he stopped, pricked up his ears, and raised his snout to sniff the wind. But there were no familiar grunts and squeals, no trace of scent on the rocks and bushes.
The animal soon became so tired that he could not go on. Looking for a safe place to hide and rest, he spotted a hollowed-out space under the overhang of a huge boulder. The little peccary dropped into it and dozed off, but his sleep was fitful because of the strange night sounds.
When he fully awoke, the sun was up, and the young animal squinted against the brightness. Suddenly hearing strange sounds, he tried to hide by scrunching back as far as he could. But the space was too shallow.
“Look, Maria, a baby peccary!” exclaimed Pepe. “And he’s all alone!”
When his sister knelt to stroke the grizzled head, her hand touched the dried blood. “Oh, you poor little thing!” cried Maria. “You’ve been hurt. We must take him home with us, Pepe. If we leave him here, he’ll die of thirst or starvation.”
“But what will Mama say?” Pepe asked.
“Oh, I’m sure she won’t mind—when we explain,” Maria assured him.
Pepe and Maria lived in a small village in northern Mexico. That morning their mother had sent them out to gather cactus fruit. However, their errand was quickly forgotten as Maria pulled off her bright serape and picked up the peccary. The little animal was so frightened and so weak that he didn’t even struggle.
Carrying her bundle, Maria started back to the village. Pepe followed, carrying the empty baskets.
In their adobe home Mama was busy cooking the noon meal. As she stirred the stew of beans and meat, the door burst open and two excited voices cried, “We found a baby peccary, Mama! May we keep him?”
Mama turned from the stove and stared at the children. “What is this? You are sent to gather cactus fruit, and instead you return with this little wild one? Are not a lame burro, a blind rooster, and an orphan lamb enough?” she asked.
“But he’s been hurt!” Pepe declared.
“And he must be hungry and thirsty,” Maria added in a pleading voice.
Mama sighed. “All right. Put him in one of the empty pens. He can have some fresh goat’s milk from the jar on the shelf.”
“Oh, thank you, Mama!” Maria and Pepe cried. Then they took the little peccary outside to get acquainted with his new home and the other animals.
The children’s new pet soon learned to come when he was called. Sometimes Pepe and Maria would scratch his head and rub his belly. The little peccary would grunt softly, flop down on the ground, and beg for more. Though the peccary made whimpering noises if he was left alone very long, he seemed content.
Soon he began to grub for his own food, using his snout to plough up the ground in search of buried roots, bulbs, insects, and worms. To keep himself clean, he rolled in the sand and dirt. Every once in a while he would stop whatever he was doing to lift his head and sniff the wind. Every day he grew bigger and stronger. And every day Pepe and Maria were kept busy adding mesquite branches and rocks to weak places in the sides of his pen.
One morning when the children went to feed their animals, the peccary was gone. Tracks led away from a hole in the corner of his pen. Pepe and Maria followed the tracks to a spot in the desert where they merged with many others.
“The little peccary has probably found his mother.” Maria said, her eyes filling with tears. “We’ll never see him again.”
“Don’t be sad,” Pepe said, trying to comfort Maria. “That is the way it should be. Come on—I’ll show you where a roadrunner with a broken wing hides in the chaparral.”