Raccoons are Moving on Up

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Yesterday was International Raccoon Appreciation Day. I celebrated by watching Guardians of the Galaxy. I also took the time to read a great article from Slate that details the rapidly developing raccoon population and how humankind is inadvertently helping them become smarter and bolder. Some excerpts are below:

On how urban and rural raccoons differ

She tracked urban raccoons outfitted with GPS collars and found that they avoided crossing major roads, as if they’d learned to avoid cars. She placed tough-to-open garbage cans in both the city and country, with delicious treats like cat food at the bottom, and found the urban raccoons, for the most part, could solve the puzzle, while the rural ones had no success whatsoever.

On the need to study raccoon psychology further

“I would put their little brains up again pretty much anything,” MacDonald says. Studies from the early 1900s put raccoons near monkeys—and ahead of cats and dogs—on several measures of intelligence. (Raccoon brains are seriously overdue for study. Early comparative psychologists were fascinated by them, according to a short history of the topic, but their work devolved into academic squabbles, and there hasn’t been a lot of research into raccoon psychology since.)

On being the most American of animals

Besides, just what constitutes a pest depends on whom you’re asking. Native to the New World, raccoons stand for “wilderness and freedom … self-reliance and adaptability,” argued a 1963 Harper’s piece that called them more American than the bald eagle. One writer, pointing out how traits like adaptability and opportunism are shared by humans and raccoons, asks: “[I]f we reject animals for their destructive habits, at what point do we turn the gaze on ourselves?”

Read the full article here.

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