Suddenly, every Japanese child wanted their own pet raccoon
September 24, 2013 3:13 PM   Subscribe

How a Kids’ Cartoon Created an Real-Life Invasive Army. At the peak of their popularity following the animated series Araiguma Rasukaru, Japan imported more than 1,500 North American raccoons annually... Raccoons compete both for food and for territory with the native raccoon dog (tanuki) and the red fox, and push native owls out of nesting spots in hollow trees. Ever since raccoons attacked a reproductive colony of grey herons in Nopporo Forest Park in 1997, the grand birds have not returned to their historic breeding grounds.

There's little political will for mass culls of raccoons in Japan, but conservationists in the Galapagos Islands completed a successful six-year project to kill the nearly 80,000 feral goats on one island. Killing in the name of biodiversity or ecological balance raises some hackles, especially when the target species is a popular introduced mammal, bird or a beloved species in its home territory. (Invasive species previously, previouslier, previouslier, previouslier)
posted by spamandkimchi (54 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
There's a pretty good PBS/Nature special just added to Netflix on raccoons that even touches on Japan's history with these adorable bandits.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:21 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's also significant numbers of North American raccoons in Germany. They were imported more than 80 years ago for fur farms.
posted by thewalrus at 3:25 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


with the native raccoon dog

what
posted by jimmythefish at 3:30 PM on September 24, 2013


Yeah, Mario's suit is actually a Tanooki Suit, not a raccoon suit.
posted by FJT at 3:32 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


raccoon dog (tanuki)
posted by Hairy Lobster at 3:34 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


thewalrus, thanks for sharing that article on Germany's raccoons.
Their controlled introduction into the wild occurred on April 12, 1934, when Prussian hunting and game authorities released two pairs of raccoons near the Edersee, a reservoir near Kassel. Their stated purpose was to "enrich the fauna" of the area.
!!!!!!
posted by spamandkimchi at 3:35 PM on September 24, 2013


with the native raccoon dog

what


There's good documentary about them here. Mischievous buggers, able to mimic other species.
posted by titus-g at 3:36 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Huh, I always assumed Mario's suit was a raccoon suit because it didn't include the massive tanuki scrotum. The more you know.
posted by jamaro at 3:36 PM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Raccoons are consumate survivors, and definitely not something you want to import if you're worried about invasive species.

I can well believe that they're displacing the tanukis; they occupy a similar ecological niche.

Well, at least it wasn't possums, which are invasive and ugly as sin.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:37 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fucking raccoons.
posted by The Owls at 3:40 PM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


the massive tanuki scrotum

Speaking of... they are also fairly well known (in some circles) from this ad
posted by titus-g at 3:42 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


~10 years ago we had a mamma raccoon and her two kits make a den between the floors of our house. When I called the critter control expert, his words were, "When we referred to 'wild animal removal' in our ad, we were talking about raccoons. Pound for pound, they are the Muhammed Ali of the animal kingdom in these parts." Three Stooges levels of slapstick ensued when his team tried to dislodge Mama Raccoon and her kits, but they were ultimately successful, and she and her kits shuffled off to live another day somewhere else. In the process, we learned an expensive lesson about keeping your vent screens in good repair; $10 of prevention > $1000 of cure.

Sorry, Japan, but you not only brought this trouble on yourself, you most likely paid retail for it. To paraphrase Yosemite Sam, "they're nothing but lousy, no good, rackin' frackin' rickin' rackin' dad gum varmints!" Importing 1500 of them annually is just...well, it's stupid, and someone should have stopped you.
posted by mosk at 4:01 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


A raccoon is not just for Christmas - it's for destroying your entire indigenous ecology!
posted by Wolfdog at 4:01 PM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Not being from North America I thought they were little cute woodland critters until they tried to assassinate the cat, since then its been WAR against the HORRID BEASTS.

Sorry to hear you were tricked, Japan.
posted by Artw at 4:17 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mario had both a raccoon suit and a tanooki suit in Mario 3. The tanooki power up was much rarer in the game.
posted by zixyer at 4:19 PM on September 24, 2013


I sense a turf war with these guys.
posted by pibeandres at 4:21 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Distribution of Raccoons shot in Germany. Also, it's called the "Washing Bear" in German for its habit of dipping food in water.
posted by thewalrus at 4:25 PM on September 24, 2013


Now, a Red Panda, there is a cute animal.
posted by Artw at 4:30 PM on September 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


Not being from North America I thought they were little cute woodland critters until they tried to assassinate the cat, since then its been WAR against the HORRID BEASTS.

Their (tiny, adorable) car bomb failed to detonate when the cat jumped on the hood for a nap?
posted by indubitable at 4:33 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


According to Wikipedia, the natural predators are basically wolves/coyotes, big cats and owls.

I don't think culling would work, especially with an intrepid species like the raccoon (or any animal that makes the urban environment its home -- look at pigeons, rats, house flies and cockroaches). Can introducing another species bring balance or make things worse?

Both native wolves species in Japan went extinct over a hundred years ago, one because of ranches and the other because of rabies. Wolves are pretty sensitive to human sprawl but coyotes aren't. You'd be reintroducing a cousin of a species that used to occupy an ecological niche until very recently, so it could be viable.

You gotta admit, the raccon/bobcat/coyote balance works pretty well in nature (and all three are just pests to urban garbage cans).

I'm sure that'll end up being a huge debate, but it's as valid a consideration as culling or anything else: all of it will end with some sort of price.
posted by linux at 4:37 PM on September 24, 2013


(and all three are just pests to urban garbage cans)
I don't make light of cats getting hunted, by the way. My cats are exclusively indoors for many reasons and the big reason is to avoid predation from other cats, infestation and raccoons.
posted by linux at 4:40 PM on September 24, 2013


A friend and I were discussing this a few months ago. I remember hearing about the raccoons climbing into the mountains and destroying the temples. Congrats, people, that's what you get when you mess around with Nature.

Wolves are pretty sensitive to human sprawl but coyotes aren't. You'd be reintroducing a cousin of a species that used to occupy an ecological niche until very recently, so it could be viable.

Interesting idea considering that coyotes as a species actually developed in North America, whereas wolves have travelled across continents throughout their evolutionary history and can still be found on different continents.

I can imagine. If they think raccoons are hard to eliminate, they would never get rid of coyotes.
posted by quiet earth at 5:07 PM on September 24, 2013


Feral raccoons are devious bastards. From what I've been able to gather, though, if taken as kits they domesticate pretty well, and if kept indoors make fine pets. Basically cat++.

Also, it's called the "Washing Bear" in German for its habit of dipping food in water.

Yes, the noble Waschbär. Literally "wash-bear". Because it's a little bear that washes things. I love the German language.
posted by kafziel at 5:11 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


From what I've been able to gather, though, if taken as kits they domesticate pretty well, and if kept indoors make fine pets.

No, they don't. That is the whole problem.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:18 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fur isn't very nice, but I would have no qualms against buying fur from trapped/shot invasive animals.

Come on, Japan. Trap'em, and make some kawaii'ed up coonskin hats/ I'll buy one.
posted by ocschwar at 5:24 PM on September 24, 2013


I can imagine. If they think raccoons are hard to eliminate, they would never get rid of coyotes.


Yeah, and coyotes wouldn't just compete with the tanuki and foxes, they would eat them.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:24 PM on September 24, 2013


Raccoons make horrendous, terrible, dangerous pets. They cannot be domesticated effectively. Once they hit adolescence you have an omnivore with no fear of humans and the weaponry to do damage on a scale of which a cat can only dream.

Say no no no to the idea.
posted by winna at 5:33 PM on September 24, 2013 [14 favorites]


Racoons in Japan and Germany? The red fox is not impressed.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:37 PM on September 24, 2013


Apparently, 14,000 raccoons were trapped in Japan in 2008 according to Wikipedia. The Wikipedia article notes that is difficult to hunt raccoons because they are nocturnal.

Public opposition to getting rid of non-native/invasive species is not limited to Japan. Where I live there is a large suburban deer population that has grown radically over the past 20 years. There's a lot of damage to gardens, but the deer also spread Lyme disease and attract cougars, which sometimes attack children and pets. While local government has tried to organize a deer cull, it ain't happening anytime soon.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:39 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's the article on invasive species in Japan, Google Translate works reasonably well to read it if you don't read Japanese.
posted by thewalrus at 5:45 PM on September 24, 2013


Hairy Lobster: "raccoon dog (tanuki)"

Tanuki.
posted by boo_radley at 5:47 PM on September 24, 2013


(those are red pandas, Boo).

Tanuki video
posted by jamaro at 5:53 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The raccoon dog is itself an invasive species in eastern Europe.
posted by jb at 5:59 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


jamaro: "(those are red pandas, Boo)."

What? Why would Tsubasa lie to me? Dammit.
posted by boo_radley at 6:22 PM on September 24, 2013


Also, it's called the "Washing Bear" in German for its habit of dipping food in water.
Also in Hungarian (mosómedve).
posted by Wolfdog at 7:14 PM on September 24, 2013


Yes, the noble Waschbär.

And in French they're raton-laveur - the "washing rat". Which seems a little undignified, and much less taxonomically sound.
posted by sneebler at 7:16 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


If you are like me and you're looking for a cartoon for your kids where the protaganists have giant magical scrotums, then you should watch Miyazaki's Pom Poko. But remember, the characters with the huge nutsacks are a kind of wild Japanese dog species and not raccoons.
posted by dgaicun at 7:24 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know you’re in a Japanese restaurant when there’s a massive Tanooki statue in the entrance, giant lucky scrotum and all.

Magic.
posted by edwardog at 7:43 PM on September 24, 2013


We'll come get our raccoons when y'all come get your kudzu.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:26 PM on September 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


When I was a kid I loved Rascal, the book the Japanese TV series was based on. But the whole point was that wild animals gotta be wild animals... if it inspires you to try to get a pet raccoon, you're doing it wrong.
posted by Jeanne at 9:03 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The cuteness of raccoon faces makes people think they're sweet and funny and nice, rather than the vicious, sneaky, nasty monsters they are. Truly they are the Sarah Palins of the animal kingdom.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:41 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


urban raccoons are the worst. Big and no fear of humans at all. They'll sit there in an alley chewing on a dead rat, all bloody, and hiss at you.
posted by Hoopo at 9:58 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm used to would animals that run away if you look at them, not stand their ground when you go near them. It's a little sinister.
posted by Artw at 10:43 PM on September 24, 2013


People that think raccoons are cute would do well to spend a night at Kentucky's Lure Lodge, at Lake Cumberland, near the Land Between the Lakes in southwestern Kentucky. The Lodge itself is nothing special, just another clean, if sparse, state campground lodge, with 63 rooms, and a fairly good restaurant. But the restaurant has an elevated outdoor veranda with a bridge over to the lodge office, both of which people started using to observe and feed the local raccoons in the quiet Kentucky evenings. Ample food drew more raccoons, and increased the breeding success of the ones that showed up. Word of the growing horde of raccoons jumping and leaping for food, (so cutely!) got around, and for a while, the Lure Lodge even promoted the raccoons. You could even buy bags of roasted peanuts in the restaurant to take out on the veranda, to feed the raccoons.

Eventually the troop of bandit masked omnivores grew to several hundred animals, the largest of which probably weighed about 40 pounds, and would stand on their back legs, thigh high to a human, to grab thrown treats. And at those population levels, the tourists that nightly filled the 63 rooms of the Lure Lodge, plus the few locals that came out to the restaurant on most weekday summer nights simply weren't tossing enough food off the veranda to keep all the raccoons fed. So, you may have guessed it, the raccoons soon found their way to every garbage can, parked car with food in it, and other food source they could find.

And then they started following people that came out of the restaurant and Lodge office back to their rooms in outlying buildings, begging for food. Then, as the packs of raccoons grew, they weren't begging any more.

If you never been chased by 50 or 60 big, hungry raccoons that expect you to throw them food, you may still think getting chased by dinosaurs would be the most traumatic dream seed ever. But I'm here to tell you, if you ever eat at the Lure Lodge restaurant, in the evening, don't go outside without 4 or 5 bags of the peanuts, or half a dozen hamburgers you can throw strategically, behind you. Otherwise, you'll never make it to your room, or your car. And even if you do, you may still wake up in a cold sweat, from raccoon mobbed dreams, weeks later.

I think there is actually a "don't feed the wildlife" policy in that park now, but if you're on foot in the dark, take food you can throw, for God's sake, and sort out the policy interpretations in the following day's light.
posted by paulsc at 11:16 PM on September 24, 2013 [20 favorites]


Word of the growing horde of raccoons jumping and leaping for food, (so cutely!) got around

o_O

Sorry, no matter how cute the critter, when they present themselves in a proper horde I stay as far away from that place as I effing can.
posted by Iosephus at 2:19 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, the noble Waschbär.

Or, in Swedish, tvattbjörn
posted by acb at 2:45 AM on September 25, 2013


That sounds rather rude.
posted by Artw at 7:33 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or, in Swedish, tvattbjörn

Okay but except maybe for MacDuff, isn't that everybody?
posted by kafziel at 9:52 AM on September 25, 2013


yep if you live in Colorado you keep your cats indoors because: raccoons, cougars, coyotes, foxes, bobcats AND black bears.

Raccoons are terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad pests that should engender humane kill policies in areas where they present an invasive / overpopulated problem. I would also love for our local government to impose a "shoot on sight" policy for the goddamned squirrels because HOLY HELL are they invasive / destructive. And dirty. And disease-ridden. If you've never had squirrels rip apart your soffits to gain access to your attic, or dig up EVERY. SINGLE. ITEM. in your garden or chew the bark off your fruit trees and kill them despite trying every capsaicin compound / deterrent trick known to man you may still think they're just cute woodland creatures. Fie on the bleeding heart yuppies that feed these creatures and cry about their "welfare". For god's sake they're just rats with fluffy tails.

I remember hearing something about raccoons causing concern in Switzerland when I was there, owing to their lack of native predators and the damage they were doing to native bird populations. Sigh. People are stupid, and in this farm girl's opinion, sheltered suburbanites / city folk who've never developed any sense of land stewardship and have no understanding of how ecology works should never be allowed exotic / non-native pets (see also: the huge invasive non-native snake problem in southern Florida).
posted by lonefrontranger at 10:45 AM on September 25, 2013


Or in dutch, wasbeer. Yes, dutch is just like german...
posted by Pendragon at 11:25 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Raccoons want to be Tanuki, but they don't have the balls.
posted by mule98J at 11:33 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do wonder how non-native raccoons in Japan interact with Macaque monkeys, which are more vicious by another order of magnitude. In Japan, calling someone's kids "monkeys" is just about the worst insult possible... fighting words.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:39 PM on September 25, 2013


yep if you live in Colorado you keep your cats indoors because: raccoons, cougars, coyotes, foxes, bobcats AND black bears.

Country cats usually have a job: keep the critters around the house down to a minimum. Snakes, rats, moles, groundhogs, squirrels, even certain insects. Raccoons and cats seem to coexists well enough. I've seen our cats watch placidly while a momma raccoon brought her kits up to their feed dish for supper. Raccoons are superb urban predators, as skillful as rats at living in cities. But they are easier to trap and kill, mostly because their size makes it a little harder for them to hide.

Over the years we've lost a cat now and then to such predators as you've mentioned. One afternoon a redtail hawk swooped down and carried off one of our kittens. That was a bummer. Nature is tough. I'm not a fanatic. I've always been glad to not have to deal with the (now extinct)California Grizzly Bear, for example. I consider our yard plants to be a sort of deer tax that I have to pay to have them come into my yard. We have an ornamental apple tree, whose fruit they love. They keep it trimmed, and I never have to pick up any of the thousands of little apples it produces every year. In the spring, sometimes a doe will stash her fawn under the bench on my front porch while she investigates the browse in my front yard. Although the idea of being able see animals such as that Japanese macaque seems enchanting, I'm happy enough to not have to deal with them.

We live in town now--actually at the edge of town, above a small creek--so I never get bears in the yard anymore, and the coyotes are only faint calls from over the hill. Skunks and possums are fairly rare visitors, and our cats are safe enough from predation in our yard.

Security equals insulation. Bah.
posted by mule98J at 1:16 PM on September 26, 2013


ZOMG, I should have known kudzu was a good intention gone horribly awry. As a Midwesterner, I first heard about kudzu in Southern regional fiction, but the fact that it was deliberately introduced during the Dust Bowl is a new addition to my abstract knowledge of the species. "...between 1935 and 1941, some 73 million seedlings of Kudzu, an introduced Japanese vine, were planted to curb soil erosion on millions of acres of farm land."
posted by spamandkimchi at 3:49 PM on October 4, 2013


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