Saturday, October 1, 2016

Still Life with Robin: Rising Raccoon IQs

US Fish & Wildlife Service
By Peggy Robin

I read something in yesterday's Slate Magazine that was not news to me: urban raccoons are incredibly smart. And thanks to the challenges they habitually face while living in such close proximity to humans, they are getting smarter all the time. Here’s the link to the article: "Perfect Little Urban Warriors: Raccoons are getting smarter and more populous and it's all our fault."

I’ve had numerous encounters with these crafty night prowlers over the years, starting from the very first day we moved into our current home, back in the winter of 1988. I went outside that first evening to take out a plastic bag full of trash, and there was a very fat, very entitled raccoon around the side of the house, standing upright with his front paws against the Supercan, as if he were just waiting for me to drop the goodies off for him. There was snow on the ground, and so I quickly made a snowball and threw it in the direction of the can. I thought that would scare him off. He did what could only be described as a contemptuous shrug, showing no inclination whatever to move away. I’m the one that fled inside.

Over the next several years, I looked for various ways to secure the lid of the Supercan. I put heavy objects on top, and would find them on the ground the next morning. The most effective technique the raccoons liked to employ was to tip the whole can over, causing the lid to pop open as it hit the ground. Though I have never seen the raccoons do this, I assume they must work together as a team to exert the force needed upon the side of the can. Maybe one stands on top of another raccoon's shoulders to get the leverage they need. I believe they’re capable of that. Finally, after so many years of losing to them, I devised a wire loop that serves as a tight latch. It’s so strong that it holds the lid in place, even when the can is tipped over. In fact, it clamps the lid down so securely that sometimes the garbage crew has trouble opening it themselves on trash day. But one day, I have no doubt, the raccoons will learn how to undo the latch. It’s all a question of when. They’ve got time on their hands – those skillfully manipulative little hands of theirs.

Eventually, I think I will need to buy a combination lock. Let them take a crack at that!

To see them in action with another type of garbage can top, take a look at this video:

And to see what a whole family of raccoons can get up to if allowed inside a kitchen, go to:

Now that it’s fall, they’ll soon be looking to move inside our attics, so everyone, guard/reinforce your vulnerable entry points.

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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