Raccoons are wild animals, too

Raccoons are remarkably clever critters. They are not domesticated yet they thrive among people. They have hands, like we do, and the will to find food, like bears do. They look like masked bandits and they steal from dumpsters. They’re cute and small, around the size of a cat, so begging is also an option.

Do not make it easy for them.

Raccoons learn fast. If you accidentally leave food out once but never again, they won’t bother you much. If you leave food out often, they’ll come like clockwork. It’s not just that, though. Once these guys figure out that camper baggage is full of goodies and that the campers won’t actually hurt them, they get very bold. I’ve seen campers who brought too much food to fit in their animal-proof food locker, trying to shake off prowling raccoons for a good hour or two before giving up and deciding to take their party elsewhere. I’ve heard of raccoons going into an unattended cooler of food, throwing out the top layer with the condiments and going straight to the bottom. I’ve heard of raccoons breaking into cars to poop on the driver’s seat. I kid you not. These guys are a nuisance.

These problem raccoons have been trained over time. People who deal with them always want a solution but the only really effective one is to not train the raccoons to look for food in human belongings by controlling access. It’s like baby-proofing your house except babies grow out of the urge to put everything in their mouths and wild animals don’t.

The psychology that goes into people intentionally feeding wild animals is really interesting, too. Sometimes, it’s just because begging animals are really good at tugging at heartstrings but probably just as often, it’s because people reward themselves for it. “I’m helping wild animals survive. They need me.” “This wild animal let me feed it. It trusts me. It must be that I’m a special person acknowledged by this wild animal.” When people fall into these psychological traps, they help turn raccoons into the little feral monsters that urban raccoons are.

Aside from the problems that furry little urban marauders cause for people, this can also be a biological problem, affecting the quality of their nutrition, the perpetuation of natural habits (failing to fulfill their role as omnivorous mesopredators), and other aspects of their population health (disease incidence, genetic issues, et cetera). I do think that it’s good when wild animals can persist in cities but the study of how that actually works out for them is a very new branch of research.

In conclusion: FOR THE LAST TIME. Pick up your shit or bolt it down, and don’t feed the wild animals.


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