New York Restoration Project is at the forefront of bringing sustainable gardens and straight up wildlife back into the inner city. Its cleanups, reforesting, weeding, seining, and other programs draw volunteers and participants from all walks of life. After all, all hands are needed!
Apparently this masked intruder felt that a pair of eerily human-like hands was needed at the NYRP’s Nature Center on Sherman Creek. It slipped between a gate and a window, perhaps seeking shelter until nightfall. NYRP Education Manager Omari Washington was thrilled to photograph a raccoon so close up and in such good lighting, as this species is usually nocturnal. “I was surprised to see him or her crawl down the window in the middle of the day, given all of the activity around our office,” he said.
Washington’s excitement was tempered by broadly held concerns. “I was a little concerned about the health risk but I’m always excited to see more nature in our neighborhoods!,” he said. Raccoons, like other species, can carry rabies. Even when healthy, however, raccoons are considered vermin by many for their habit of opening our garbage cans to messily rummage.
But what could we expect from a dexterous, clever omnivore? Indeed, raccoons are literally wired to be engineers of sorts. Raccoons devote more of their brains to processing input from sensitive hands than any other creature. Therefore raccoon explore the world and learn about objects by feeling their way around and rolling things through their hands. In the course of feeling up a latch, for example, they learn how it works — and they remember it! On North America, the raccoon occupied the trickster role in ancient mythology that we associated with monkeys in Asia and the fox in Europe. Raccoons have demonstrated such easily observable non-primate intelligence that some prominent scientists have strongly objected to their relative underrepresentation in comparative studies.
Though the NYRP’s visitor was apparently alone, raccoons aren’t typically solitary creatures, as once was widely supposed. When not raised with their own kind, they can readily bond with other species, like humans and dogs.
In many areas of North America it’s illegal to keep a raccoon as a pet. Pet raccoons that are legal are bred for sale, which regardless of species is a moral crime when so many pets are killed at shelters when they aren’t adopted, and many more cats, rabbits, and dogs die abandoned to our streets. When I found my own cat, Lewie, outside the Lewis H. Latimer Historic House six years ago, he was near death from what looked like a raccoon mauling (missing front paw, damaged back paw, emaciated and dehydrated because he could no longer fend for himself). The Humane Society of New York tested him, patched him, and now we’re buddies. But in fairness to the supposed raccoon, I’d bet Lewie started the brawl!
But there’s hope, courtesy of PhotoShop, in this image that’s gone viral.