Are Humans Making Raccoons Smarter?


Written by Roberta Cruger

Able to squeeze into locked garages, open secured garbage cans, unzip tents, and pry up lids on Tupperware, urban raccoons love a challenge. Extremely adaptable and smart, they’re expert problem solvers, evolving faster than we can devise raccoon-proof gadgetry. PBS airs Raccoon Nation this Wednesday, February 8 at 8 p.m. on its “Nature” series, revealing the secrets of these masked creatures inhabiting our cities and the resulting problems for the humans and wildlife.

The film documents a recent study in which scientists GPS-tracked raccoons’ nocturnal habits with night-time cameras, exposing insights into their previously unknown bandit-like behavior, such as how they’ve learned to avoid their only urban predator—the automobile, where they sleep and the surprising limits of their territory near your backyard.

Raccoon Nation explores the issues involving these animals, from the devastation of 1000-year-old temples with a couple decades in Japan to Chicago’s parasite infestation, and how some clever German engineering is addressing how to prevent them from climbing downspouts. The documentary also addresses how humans have exacerbated the overpopulation through importing the non-indigenous species and by attempting to turn them into pets.

Toronto: Raccoon Capital of the World

Curiously, these masked critters prefer the big city. In Toronto, there are 50 times more raccoons in the city than the countryside. As omnivores, they adapt well and learn more quickly. In fact, the complex obstacles the urban environments present raccoons are accelerating their development. With hand-like front feet they can open doors and their collapsible spines allow them to climb through crevasses. What’s next — opposable thumbs?

When the cartoon Rascal the Raccoon grew popular in Japan during the 1970s, the baby animals were imported as pets. As they outgrew their homes, they were dumped in the woods and have since decimated 80% of the ancient temples. With no natural predator in the country, there is zero tolerance for the 10,000 trapped each year.

Kassel, Germany, the raccoon capital of Europe, there are 100 raccoons per square kilometer. “It’s a power struggle,” said an engineer who came up with protective device for downspouts the clever animals climb up.
Are they encroaching on our territory? Will they outnumber us? And how do we co-exist with invasive wildlife?

As master dumpster divers, raccoons have grown 20 times larger over the last 70 years, snacking on our food waste and improving their brains. Every summer a family of raccoons climbs my fig tree and gobbles the fruit in my yard. Do I share the harvest or cover it with netting — or would that obstacle make them smarter? Then one bold raccoon climbed the fence and entered the cat door to dine in the kitchen. The door is now shut at night.

If you miss the airing, catch Raccoon Nation on PBS online.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


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Photo from Arrr! via flickr


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

awww... they are smart for sure :)

Marieanne Phillips

These animals are intelligent and goes without saying. All humans are doing are pressing these animals to use that intelligence by drawing from their well of intelligence at any given time and place.

Jackie Agusta
Jackie Agusta6 years ago

Very smart animals and definately have the ability to get smarter, thanks for the info :-)

Sheri P.
Sheri P6 years ago

they are definitely smart creatures and seem to enjoy a challenge! i love hearing my dad tell tales of trying to outsmart the racoons that come to his yard...

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

Nicholas L.

because we can choose to, and think how to change. you really think an oppertunistic ominvore is going to know that some type of mouse is endangerd? while we can go "OH look, this field has endangerd mice, nobody can build on this whatso ever" "Oh, your cabin in the woods has birds nesting that are endangerd, sorry you have to move out"

or "we need to put laws that make it illegal to hunt ________, punishable by 10 years in prison"

so you want people to be "regulated"? dude, what do you think cyberbullying is for? or any bullying. if only we got more out of our human pinyatas.

for the animals! I will harass someone.

Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Mandy Harker
Mandy H6 years ago

Woah it's amazing that raccoons cause so much trouble in other places but they're not here in Australia. We do have a lot of possums that cause a fair bit of trouble but they're not as smart as the raccoons.

Nicholas L.
Nicholas L6 years ago

I find it interesting humans are the only invasive species that doesn't ever get "regulated."

Christine Stewart
Christine S6 years ago

I watched the PBS special on the Urban Raccoon- so sad that in Japan they slaughter thousands of raccoons each year- idiots thought raccoons would make good pets after watching the "Rascal" cartoon- then people abandoned them to the forests once they realized raccoons are not good pets. Human stupidity causing so much animal misery and death...

Karen Baker
Karen Baker6 years ago

All animals are smart!!!