Ephemera: Raccoons in paradise
I’m from southern Ontario and I live in the rural area just outside of Niagara Falls. So I’m used to raccoons. My partner is waging a constant battle between at least one of them who insists on living in the attic space above his workshop, something that Gary wouldn’t mind if Rocky wasn’t so darn destructive and messy. In his battle against Rocky, Gary installed a motion sensitive camera that met it’s demise one night, and I wish I had this video, when Rocky came at it with arms outstretched. You get a brief look at his face and then the camera tips sideways and goes to static.
I was surprised to see them in Cozumel, Mexico. It wouldn’t have surprised me to encounter them in Mexico City. It was seeing them on what is bascially a Caribbean island, because Cozumel is an island, that surprised me. So here’s what google tells me about the Cozumel raccoon.
The Cozumel raccoon is a pygmy raccoon, smaller than it’s mainland cousins, and unlike it’s mainland cousins who are thriving, Procyon pygmaeus is critically endangered. There’s only about 3-500 of them left. These little guys aren’t found anywhere else in the world. They are friendly and like to eat crabs, fruit, and insects along with small invertebrates and basically anything else they can find. Like their mainland cousins, they like garbage cans which often puts them in conflict with dogs. Feral dogs and cats, animals introduced to the island by residents, are the primary threat to these little guys.
The Cozumel coati is a distant relative of the pygmy raccoon, they have longer snouts and look a little more like weasels. Like the Cozumel raccoons, the Cozumel coatis are also a little smaller than their mainland relatives. They eat the same food, including the garbage can buffet, and are under threat from the same feral dogs and cats as well as boas but being less inclined towards human habitation they aren’t yet endangered.
We spent a day on Cozumel and as we are prone to do we passed up the larger resorts and asked the cab driver to take us somewhere owned by locals so at least some of our money would stay in Mexico, which is how we wound up at the Playa Palancar Beach Club. It’s a little further from the port but the you can snorkel right off the beach, the food is great, and the margaritas kept coming. So did the raccoons.
You aren’t supposed to feed them. There’s a sign and everything. But as you can see in this picture, there’s snacks and raccoons right under the sign that says don’t do it. I picked up some of those nacho chips and the little guy on the far left took it easily from my hand. No hesitation at all. And he wasn’t even mad that I’d picked it up on the first place.
It wasn’t just nacho chips and other cast offs that these little cuties were getting into. Seems they like daquiris too. I watched this little guy and his friends get their drink on but by the time I got my camera out all but one had scattered. They were face deep in those cups for a few minutes and I don’t think they cared that it wasn’t noon yet. Beach raccoons are living la vida loca all day every day.
Generally speaking, feeding wild animals is bad for them. It makes them comfortable enough with humans that they become a menace and need to be put down. And as you can see from the nachos, the food we give them isn’t any healthier for them than it is for us. We don’t generally live well with our other than human relatives. Our pattern is to displace them and then invite them back under particular conditions that don’t take their needs or patterns into consideration. Kind of like what we do with people when we gentrify neighbourhoods or businesses or really any place that the people pushed to the margins make their own.
That’s what ephemera is supposed to be thinking about, those fleeting relationships that change our lives somehow and remind us that the world is worth saving or getting out of the way of while she saves herself or however you want to think about it and that day in Cozumel I was thinking about raccoons and how ubiquitous they are. How comfortable with us they are. How they so clearly demonstrate our entwined circumstance with the other than human world. How they shape us.
Raccoons don’t give us the option of being disconnected. Of seeing ourselves as somehow distinct. There is something oddly sentient about them. You can see them problem solving, doing a risk analysis on the leftovers on your plate. Can they can help themselves or should they give you some space. You might not like them very much, but even your dislike of them is a relationship.
Because it really isn’t whether or not we are in relationship with each other, the question is what kind of relationship. The west loves to bestow charity, giving our castoffs or extras to the needy. But nacho chip generosity doesn’t help raccoons and it doesn’t help people. Reciprocal relationships help them and us.
I don’t know what kind of world raccoons, coatis, and that whole family is building. But I’m immensely curious, and I think I want to be part of it.