Raccoons that live in cities or suburbs seem to be more resourceful than their rural kin, according to preliminary research by Suzanne MacDonald, a psychology professor at York University near Toronto and a National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration grantee.
Case in point: MacDonald recently captured video of raccoons getting stuck in—and cleverly getting out of—a garbage can tightly secured with bungee cords in her suburban backyard.
The video was part of her ongoing experiments looking at the behavior of raccoons, a native North American mammal that has adapted incredibly well to living in urban environments.
City-dwelling raccoons have special challenges not found in their natural habitat, according to MacDonald: dealing with traffic, constructing den sites in man-made structures, and exploiting new resources, like garbage bins and swimming pools, for food and water.
“There’s a lot of work on behavior in wild animals and captive ones, and [my] work is somewhere in between,” she said.
We talked to MacDonald to find out what she’s learned about these clever backyard bandits.
What’s so special about raccoons? Why study them?
Raccoons are special in the way they’ve been affected by us. Lots of other wildlife lives in cities, and one of the reasons that raccoons have done so well is that they are able to eat anything. If you can eat pretty much whatever you find in a Dumpster, then you’re going to do okay.