Maggie A's Meanderings




 Mar 29, 2015

Raccoons --
The Road(bump) to Enlightenment

raccoon in tree For years I wanted a pet raccoon. They are so adorable looking with that bandit mask, plump, round bodies and long ringtail. I'd hear stories about raccoons who'd ride around on people's shoulders (like a cat) and follow along after them (like a dog), raccoons who were trained to do tricks with their clever paws. There's the cutest commercial of a raccoon sleeping with its person (who thinks it's a cat --- it's a commercial for eye glasses). Raccoons seemed like this marvelous combination of cat, dog and monkey all in a fluffy, snuggly package.

The reality is quite different. It's true there are a few raccoons that make great pets. Most of them do not. Raccoons are wild animals and once they reach adulthood, the wildness comes out. Raccoons are highly intelligent and adaptable. But adaptable doesn't mean what you think it would mean ---- that they would adapt to living as housepets. No it means they rapidly learn to adapt the surroundings to what they want and what they want to do.
And are they ever equipped for it.
Raccoons come with a sharp set of teeth and a set of strong claws that can tear through wood. With as many raccoons as there are, I'm thankful that raccoons normally don't want to be in a house, because if they want to be in a house, it would be incredibly difficult to keep one out. Raccoons are such agile climbers they make cats look as clumsy as dogs. Plus raccoons can slip into very small spaces. Even if your house is brick with a slate roof a raccoon could still get in through a chimney or a vent. And once in the house their destructive potential is enormous. 

This is information that I'm betting the Japanese wish they had payed attention to. Instead, charmed by an cartoon, Araiguma Rasukaru (Rascal the Raccoon), the Japanese imported baby raccoons from the United States. The irony is the cartoon was based on a book, Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era, about someone who hand-raised a baby raccoon and had to release it when it got older because he realized it wasn't a pet -------- the raccoon was a wild animal. But did the Japanese pay attention to the moral of this story? Nope. At the height of the raccoon-craze, the Japanese imported 1500 raccoons a year to be pets. And they didn't bother to get them fixed. So when the raccoons either escaped or were deliberately released (either out of frustration or copying the release at the end of the cartoon), Japan soon found itself with a breeding population of raccoons. Smart, adaptable, well-armed raccoons.

Now I learned about the Japanese raccoon problem on a 2012 episode of the PBS series Nature. In the episode they showed Buddhist monks who lived in a temple made of wood. The temple was more than 750 years old, and the raccoons had gotten to it, "
In a matter of a year or just a few months, the destruction by raccoons is almost unthinkable." The raccoons had, "damaged over 80% of the temples here, clawing and chewing out dens and rotting the structure with their feces and urine."

When I saw that on Nature,
I was curious how the monks handled it. After all, these are Buddhist monks ---- in their quest for Nirvana they're supposed to be striving for the "cessation of craving" so they're not supposed to want, they're not supposed to desire. They are supposed to detach themselves. Buddhists --- especially Buddhist monks --- are also not supposed to bring harm to others which is why Buddhism is so often associated with vegetarianism. So my instant thought was:

1 Would they follow their tenets enough to just accept the damage?
2 Would they trap, spay-neuter, relocate and release?

The answer these Buddhist monks chose surprised me..........................they chose to kill, to try to wipe out the raccoons. It's a Zero Tolerance Policy. Hmmm, apparently Buddhist monks are a lot like Catholic priests when it comes to following the tenets of their religion. The irony here is the fundamental basis of Buddhism. The Buddhists believe in reincarnation (which they call rebirth), and that rebirth is a two-way street. Depending upon how you act in your current life, in your next life you'll either go closer to Nirvana or further away. By slaughtering the raccoons, these monks who had dedicated their lives to trying to achieve Nirvana were causing themselves to go backwards. You came here to spend your life trying to get closer to Nirvana, but because of your failure to follow your own religion re your temple and raccoons, you're now further away from Nirvana than if you never came here. All the prayer, all the meditation, all the vegetables, all for nothing. As Buddhist don't believe that rebirth is limited to human beings, it's even possible these monks would slip so far back that in their next lives they might not even be human. They could be raccoons. Not that thought amused the hell out of me. Some old monk dying and coming back as a raccoon only to be captured and killed by his fellow monks.

You've got to acknowledge the irony of that. I just wonder if anyone has ever pointed it out to the monks at the temple? 

Raccoon and Nirvana

Photo of raccoon by Ken Thomas ( (personal website of photographer)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For my story of a wild animal intrusion, read "The Suburban Wilds" about how I got outsmarted by a pussum.

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