Photo from Carnivora website
Javelinas are omnivorous. They eat lots of nuts and roots, but I have personally seen them break into a chicken pen to kill and eat the chickens. I've also seen them tear a large dog to shreds, and they have been known to seriously injure or kill people. One evening, a couple of years prior to the evening my daughter were walking in the woods at night, I was walking in the woods with my dogs late in the afternoon (although javenlinas are mostly nocturnal, expecially when the weather is hot, they seem to start foraging shortly before sundown and continue until shortly after sunrise) and found myself surrounded by javelinas. They usually make quite a bit of noise as they go through the woods, digging around for food and grunting to each other. But that evening, they were very quiet. I did not notice them until they had surrounded me, nor did my dogs notice them at first. They must have kept downwind from us, so we didn't smell them (they have a fairly strong, distinctive odor). It's possible they were just curious about me (they are highly intelligent, curious animals), but I got the distinct impression that I was prey, that I was to feature as the main course for their dinner that night. I went up the nearest tree, and the dogs ran off in the opposite direction. I stayed in the tree until I was sure the javelinas had gone.
Anyhow, this one night Kat and I were walking in the woods well after dark, and we heard a pack of javelinas approaching. Javelinas can run surprisingly fast (the Carnivora website says they have been clocked at up to 21 mph); there was no way we could be sure of outrunning them for long in the woods. It was dark and cloudy, so there was little light from moon or stars. We would likely have tripped over a vine or run into a branch. However, there was a fenced enclosure not too far from where we were. "Go over the fence!" I said to Kat, and ran to the fence and leaped over, putting a hand on the top wire and vaulting over, something I never could have done if I hadn't been pumped up with fear. Once I got over myself, I helped Kat over.
This incident has always disturbed me, because I believed my first thought should have been to save my child. I don't know whether or not the javelinas would have hurt us. But at the time, I certainly believed that we were in great danger. How could I jump over the fence and leave my child on the other side, even for a few seconds? When I talked about it with friends later, they all said they thought I did the right thing. They said it was like putting on one's oxygen mask first before helping one's child, in the even of cabin depressurization in an airliner. This makes sense. If the javelinas had gotten me, they probably would have gotten Kat as well, because she would have had trouble jumping the fence herself, and there was not enough time to climb through the wires. But I didn't stop and think this all through at the time. I just leaped the fence and only thought about Kat once I was safely on the other side.
I'm reading a book by Jeff Wise, Extreme Fear. It says that when one is in an immediate life-or-death situation (or believes one is in such a situation), the ventral lateral prefrontal cortex stops working. We don't think. There isn't time to think. If there's an escape route, one flees; if not, one stands and fights. So it would have been my amygdala that induced me to leap over the fence and my prefrontal cortex kicking in after I was safe, directing me to rescue my child.
Wise writes: "Unfortunately, most of us have a hard time appreciating before the fact how nonnegotiable this [amygdala driven] effect will be. We get so used to making our way through the wold under the stewardship of our complex and sophisticated C-system (prefrontal cortex) that we tend to assume that we will always have it at our disposal When we suddenly find ourselves drowning in a flood of noradrenaline, it can be shocking how little brainpower we have at our disposal."
The more you practice facing certain kinds of danger, the less likely you are to end up running on fear's autopilot. With events that are relatively likely to happen, you can think ahead before you're in a desperate situation. For example, when I was a teenager learning how to fly a single-engine Cessna 182, my instructor taught me to always be on the lookout for a place I could land if the engine quit. I got into the habit of doing this sort of thing when driving as well. So, for example, if I'm approaching a truck or car, I think of where I'll go if the other vehicle suddenly veers into my lane (or if I noticed that there's no escape route, I'll usually slow down). When I'm listening to an audio book or talking on the phone while driving, I'm not as likely to be scanning ahead like this, so I'm more likely to crash the car.