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Invasion of the Waschbären

Oooh, I did not know this. Germany has a raccoon problem. They deliberately imported the first breeding pair in 1930 for the fur, which was both prized and expensive, and being diabolical evil freaking genius animals, raccoonlets soon escaped into the wild. The Krauts call them “Waschbären” (wash bears), because they wash their food with their hands (and their clever opposable thumbs).

How big a problem? In Brandenburg, the area around Berlin, hunters killed 41 of them in 1990 and 5,712 in the most recent season. A total of 30,000 were killed in the country at large — that’s triple six years ago. But being the diabolical evil freaking genius animals that they are, the raccoons packed up and moved to the city, away from the hunters. Now there are far more urban raccoons than country ones.

We kept several as pets when I was a kid. It was legal then. Easily the smartest animal I’ve ever handled, including monkeys, most small children and all my relatives. Scary smart. There aren’t many latches those evil little fingers can’t pick.

The raccoon I got when I was 16 was raised largely on raisins and scrambled eggs and other delicious people food. When he was fully grown, I wanted to switch him over to dry dogfood, but he hated it. So I tried mixing raisins in with his dry food. He took one sniff, dumped the bowl on the floor, picked out the raisins and ate them, and swaggered off, leaving me with a mess to clean up.

Raccoons open latches, love people food, live anywhere, carry diseases, are incredibly destructive and — bonus — adorable.

Jerry? You are so screwed.


Comment from Alissa
Time: March 12, 2007, 1:12 pm

It’s sorta interesting when like, all the blogs you’re reading sort of synthesize. It’s almost like an interdisciplinary program at college. What am I babbling about?

and this

I hafta make another comment about a dramatic raccoon encounter, one sec.

Comment from Alissa
Time: March 12, 2007, 1:23 pm

Ugh, last comment went in moderation queu. Does this mean no more gleeful genitalia comments?

Anyway, raccoons. Five years ago I was driving at night on a really quiet back-road and this bugger was standing up right in the center of the lane, staring down my headlights. I saw him too late and hit.

I felt horrible about it, and looped around up on the highway to come back to the spot, see if he was dead. This still makes me sad: He wasn’t alone. Another raccoon was lying prostrate over his body, just like a widow doubled over in grief flinging herself across the deceased’s body. She or he looked up finally, my car was at a stop, headlights on them both, and then I watched while the living racoon took a limb and literally dragged the body out of the road. No small feat, he was a big one. A couple cars came up behind me, one guy got out of his car to see if I was in trouble, and he also watched the racoon drag the other into the bushes. I waited until they were out of the roadway, and then drove home with the burden of guilt any motorist who has gone and run over a pedestrian might feel.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 12, 2007, 1:50 pm

Sorry. I kicked it loose. It automatically quarantines posts with more than one link, since multiple links are typical of spam. I keep getting myself quarantined on other sites for that.

That’s an amazing story. Funny, I never thought about how raccoons live in the wild; I have no idea what their intepersonal relationships are like. Whether they form attachments or anything.

One of the spookiest things I ever saw was similar. I was headed to my car one morning in a steady, soaking rain. I spotted a familiar neighborhood cat standing in the yard next door, dripping wet. Just standing there with the water rolling off of her. That was so odd, I walked over to her, and she reluctantly backed away (she never lets me approach her; she may be feral).

She’d been staring at the body of a big orange tom, dead in the grass. There wasn’t a mark on him. He’d probably been hit a glancing blow with a car and managed to stagger over to die.

I try not to romanticize animals too much; it did occur to me that she might have been eating him, desperate as she may be for food. But no, indications are that she stood there contemplating, in a driving rain. (I’ve always meant to draw a picture of that memory, by way of exorcising it).

Again, I try not to anthropomorphize animals, but it’s clear they have some concept of death.

Comment from Alissa
Time: March 12, 2007, 2:46 pm

Yeah, I looked up on the internet and ‘the experts’ say there are no lasting pair bonds between raccoons, although sibling and mother/young bonds can be intense. The impression of grief was strong. It’s hard not to see things through a human lens, but I think that people tend to assign emotional responses to human interaction too exclusively. Human beings certainly don’t corner the market on fear and pain. Grief might be a more complex emotional response but if a dog can die of separation from it’s beloved master, I think the assignment of grief as a purely human emotion must be an error.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: March 12, 2007, 3:33 pm

The above posts remind me of the data on elephants. They apparently have an extremely strong and long-lived bond between each other, and mourn the passing of a herd member repeatedly for years – whenever they are in the vacinity of the lost members’ remains/bones or where the loss occurred. Likewise, Hippos appear to have serious awareness of mortality, and mourning-like behavior has been recorded several times.

Some bird species have also been observed to display mourning behavior for a mate or offspring.

It isn’t unique to us humans by a long shot.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 12, 2007, 4:43 pm

There’s a famous 30 seconds of film out there that this made me think of. A bull elephant walks along, spots an elephant skull on the ground and rears up in shock. His reaction is instant and powerful; it’s obvious he knows exactly what he’s looking at. I know I’ve seen it online, but YouTube wouldn’t cough it up for me.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: March 12, 2007, 5:06 pm

YouTube is rude.

BTW: Are you related to A. Weasel?


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 12, 2007, 5:25 pm

I’m not. But if it’s the same A. Weasel from Ace’s place, I’ve bumped into him before.

Weasels. They’re everywhere.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: March 12, 2007, 5:56 pm

Yeah – AoS is where I found the link. His posts were kinda-similar enough to (my perception of) your attitudes and style that I suspected that perhaps you-all were related.

And, as usual, I was dead wrong.

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: March 12, 2007, 9:22 pm

I bet that raccoon would go for Gracie over on page three. And, while he’s well mannered and groomed, he’s a bandit and thus would be exciting for a girl. Or weasel. What have you.

Comment from OmbudsBen
Time: March 14, 2007, 3:19 pm

A very long time ago when I had the chance as a 20 year old kid to bum around the country a bit, I lived on the Hudson river in upstate NY, way up where it is a clear, clean glacial stream. (Clear and clean not usually associated with the Hudson then.)

I took the garbage out one night, lifted the lid and looked down at a raccoon bandit mask with the most wide-set eyes I’d ever seen on a wild animal that close to my crotch.

In a rare spurt of quick thinking (if you knew me, you’d know how rare) I slammed the lid right back down, and backed away from the can.

You know how fisher-folk exaggerate the size of the one that got away? In my memory that coon’s eyes were so wide apart his head barely fit inside the trashcan.

It wasn’t until I got back inside rummaging around for available weaponry that I marveled at how the clever sumbitch had lifted the lid, scampered inside and let it back down as cover, then enjoyed a leisurely clandestine repast.

Anything that big and that smart is serious trouble. Ever since, when I take out the garbage, I knock first.

Comment from Christopher Taylor
Time: March 15, 2007, 3:14 pm

Does anyone else think that Washbears is just a cool name for Raccoon? Germans are great sometimes with names. Sometimes they are just goofy. Washing machine is like 87 letters. Automaticmachineforwashingclothes or some such.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: March 15, 2007, 3:18 pm

I was blown away that Waschbären sounds so much like wash bears. I knew a Russian woman once who said English and German sounded so alike to her that she was surprised we didn’t automatically understand each other’s languages. That shocked me, because I would’ve said Russian and German sounded alike. Not the words so much, but all the hocking and spitting you have to do.

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