Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Dangerous Suburban Gangster Raccoons

Living in the middle of cancerous suburban sprawl I have had many chances to see local wildlife try to adapt to the human encroachment on what was just a few years ago either woods or farmland. These displaced wild inhabitants of South Carolina have yet to understand how humans have changed the environment with them not necessarily any part of the future picture. However, evolutionary denial being a backbone of the local landscape and philosophy these wild creatures still find a way to adapt and to live.

Like the possum that took up residence in my garage one night when my wife left the door open. A huge cottonmouth water moccasin that decided to visit the local zoo the same time several school tours were going on but due to an alert zoo staff member became a full time but unwilling resident. And what had to be a bear that partied far too much down on the coast in Horry County because it stumbled out of the woods onto a busy highway. The stunned bear quickly realized how dangerous the place had become, turned around quickly and ran back into the disappearing woods. However the best example I have of human destruction of the local environment took place in the small and reactionary berg I live in now.

One of the things that I find strange with the near warp-speed pace of development is how any number of national corporate franchises will seemly build their businesses on top of one another, or at least within rock throwing distance as we say here in the South. I’m not singling out any particular type of business because there are numerous examples of restaurant, video rental, retail or grocery store chains, fast food, and drugstore clones choking the landscape. I guess this is the result of scores of high paid suits sitting in air conditioned offices figuring that if their companies opens another drugstore (for example) right next their chief competitor they might yet squeeze out a few more percentage points in annual profit. The little berg I live in now is a prime example of such attitudes, for several reasons, making it less a small American town than an united fiefdom with various corporate entities providing the only thing America has been really good at for the last twenty to thirty years, not technical advancement or new ideas but simply commercial convenience for the bloated masses at the expense of everything else.

A few weeks ago while working a Saturday at the hospital my wife called to tell me that I needed to pick up a few over the counter medicine items from the drugstore after she and the kids had picked up some cold bug. Usually when I’m tasked with picking up a few items on the way home from work I make a habit of stopping at the various stores in the main section of Columbia itself before heading home. This is done so I don’t have navigate the always crowded, screwed up streets of the town I live in now with its odd placement of businesses and drivers Hell bent on being the very first to whatever destination they are heading. But the small errand my wife had given me had slipped my feeble mind on the way homes and I was already way on the northwest side of town before I remembered forcing me to negotiate the streets, and I admit the people, I try so hard to avoid.

Entering town I hit the first place that I saw that had the small advantage of not being completely snarled up in Saturday afternoon traffic at that moment. Being as fast as possible I pulled into the parking lot of the conglomeration of buildings occupying a seriously too small a space. Had I the inclination not only could I buy the cold medicines my wife wanted but within a few feet of each other I could sample fake Mexican cuisine, buy burgers from both the clown and the king, rent a DVD, and get my car washed. Literally a few further yards away I could buy auto parts from two different stores, visit a tanning salon, buy a cell phone, and attend an up and coming area church. Looking back now I find it slightly strange that in what amounted to corporate enterprise heaven that the small church in the middle of all that still displayed the cross and not the dollar sign on the front door.

Anyway, I grabbed the stuff I needed, paid for it, and got back in my car to leave. Now leaving this hodgepodge of national chain stores should have been an issue. Of the two main exits leading back out onto the road both had in the space of twenty minutes become clogged with heavy traffic. This is where some suit really earned his or her money that day upon allowing such a cluster of building in such a small place. A entirely separate back street had been cut, mainly to allow the semis access to offload yet more cheap stuff for the shelves, but also to provide the good customers a relatively an easy exit to the main road away from the greatest part of the traffic.

Slipping through that back street takes you directly behind most of the businesses offering a view of their respective trash containers on one side and on the other a small piece of wooded land, virgin territory for more businesses yet to chop all the trees down and lay a concrete foundation all in the name of profit, growth, and progress. Obeying the low posted speed limit I had a chance to spy movement off next several overflowing trash cans beside a larger dumpster. The movement I saw was a raccoon family scavenging for their afternoon meal.

Being an American male hopelessly mired in the patriarchal mindset I saw what I will assume was papa raccoon ambling out one of the cans while mama and at least two baby raccoons stayed behind looking for cover from the strange being usually intent on running then off any place they find to live. As papa raccoon drew closer he stood up on his back two legs examining my car. It’s always a mistake to attribute human emotions and intent to wild animals by if asked the look on his face could have been easily voiced by Robert DeNiro speaking in a New York accent.

“You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin' to? You talkin' to me? Well I'm the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you're talking to?" Papa raccoon seemed to be saying      barely a few feet from my car, looking like at any moment he could pull a weapon and open up, firing away. I couldn’t help myself but feel amused at the thought of a raccoon spouting lines from an old DeNiro movie.

It would be a mistake to ever think raccoons are just cuddly, cute animals out for a piece of food and to make humans happy with their antics. Old Southern lore has them about as viscous badgers despite the cute bandit face. Although, I will admit that my dad kept a raccoon as a pet when he was a kid. It was a fairly common practice until the early 1950’s with the raccoons born in captivity and even then they had a very nasty tendency to turn on their owners. With these wild raccoons, pushed from their natural habitat into suburban confines, looking for something to eat from the refuse of the over indulgence of human civilization I admit that they did take on a slight air of menace one might feel entering a bad neighborhood. That bandit face of papa raccoon with his pseudo-arrogant DeNiro look looked less and less cute with it becoming more accusatory.

“Look where you and your kind have pushed us. And don’t think it’s going to better for either us if things keep going this way.” It seemed to be saying as I drove away leaving them to their desperate ingenuity and our trash.

Sheriff describes raccoon "gang attack" on Lakeland woman


lime said...

aggressive they are, but uh, did anyone consider rabies perhaps?

Beach Bum said...

Lime: The time frame for this being the early afternoon I considered it. Especially since raccoons are usually early morning scavengers, but there were at least one other adult with "baby" raccoons visible also. I think infected animals usually travel alone.

Vancouver BC realtor said...

Hi. I didn't know that people used to keep a raccoon as a pet. Actually I always wondered that in general the whole campaign against raccoons was so unfriendly. The reason is that there are many people who told me that these animals are so nice. But none even thought that he could have raccoon as a pet. However, these animals seem to be sometimes also very funny.


sunshine said...

I hate Raccoons. :)
Everytime my huband goes away then toss our garbage cans over and strew garbage all over the lawn. fuckers..

I do feel sorry for these animals that are losing their homes because of us. Bears are a big problem here now. We can't even put out bird feeders. If you do .. you'll find Yogi in your backyard too....


Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

Good piece! (as ever) BB.

Down my way it's Iguana's. Or as I like to call them, Street Dragons! I see them daily, growing pound wise and length / girth wise... chiefly I'm wanting to know what went with my avacado's and what they had to do with that... but! They make this clocking sound (like someone has begun to play the excerpt from Monty Python as the "rode" towards the Grail via coconut shells) and thought they were doing some mating ritual amongst themselves on my back storage shed roof. Well, hell no! They were a fightin'! They are formidable down here... another example of the twisting we have given the ecosystems!

Randal Graves said...

I've got a coworker that loathes birds (sometimes the pigeons will sneak into the library lobby) and I always say they're merely fighting back. If I was a member of the animal kingdom, I'd try to fuck our shit up, too.

Dusty said...

I don't have to read the news articles do I dude?

Amazing how people have such short memories of what lived there prior to the 'great influx' of humanoids.

still displayed the cross and not the dollar sign on the front door. I did love this line of yours because most religious groups SHOULD have the dollar sign instead of the cross. ;)

Beach Bum said...

Vancouver BC: Raccoons, born and raised in captivity, can be nice and playful but they can turn hostile and cause extreme injury.

As simple put as I can make it if you ever see wild raccoons grab the kids and get away. The main reason is that they catch and carry rabies very easily. But rabid raccoons, from what I have been taught, generally are loners. Two, healthy raccoons are either early day or night feeders and will defend any food they find or their young aggressively.

Seeing these raccoons in the early afternoon for me was a shock, given what I know of their normal behavior, my only guess is that they had been pushed to such extremes looking for food because of habitat destruction or simple opportunity. Of course the possibility that one or all were infected with rabies exists but right now I'm going with the idea that rabid animals are loners.

Sunshine: We had a bad bear issue on the coast of South Carolina twenty some odd years ago. It was development which had pushed into areas that had since colonial times been thought of as useless swamps. I don't think any of those bears, caught in someone's backyard had a happy ending. Too many gun happy hunters.

Gwen: I hear you! Although down around your parts the iguanas worry me less than some python looking for food, crawling up next some subdivision with small children playing nearby. Now if the pythons just ate golfers I would be all for leaving them alone.

Randal: I serious think that is coming. But it will be less birds, snakes, and raccoons with bad attitudes and bacteria or viruses that fuck our shit up. It ain't nice to fool with Mother Nature.

Rhiannon said...

"Simply commercial convenience for the bloated masses at the expense of everything else"...yes,very true and well said. "My country tis of thee your dying"...made me think of that lyric from an old Buffy St. Marie song.

As I read this post it sure did sound familiar, pretty much like the town I live in and how much it's grown and how so much land is now one new building after another. All practically on top of one another. And the traffic and the way "whoever" was in charge of how they built the new roads and signals and such to "accomadate" all this crap...well sure confuses the heck out of me. I sure would have made it much more simpler. Now everyone is passing "illegally" to the right of someone who is in their way and everyone is honking and giving one another the finger. People are always so impatient when driving..it's like some think they just "own" the darn road and everyone better just get out of their way...and I make sure I do! People like that you don't want to be driving near anyway.

"It's a very very mad world, mad world"..by Beck...good song..

I'm sorry but I still love the racoons, I had one living right near my house years ago and it was a friendly guy.



SJ said...

@Beach Bum,
Wonderful piece man, seriously.
Just heard a story on news radio about a woman falling down and being attacked in her front doorway in New Jersey by racoons. It's probably a sychronized uprising, maybe they're pissed off about the healthcare debate as well, maybe they watch Glenn Beck, who knows.
I've only seen one up close once in my life, when I still lived in the South Bronx believe it or not, near the Botanical gardens.
I was shocked at its size, it was massive compared to what my expectations/preconceptions were.
They may be cute, they may be friendly under the right circumstances but I just don't trust any animal born with a burglar's mask and black gloves.
They were born to burgle.

goatman said...

Looks like you need a trusty dog to handle the local wildlife! A coon once seemed to give me the finger as I tried to chase it from the back deck; this until trusty Guy my big black dog chased the bandit away with great sound and fury. My ducks are constantly bothered by the coons and the coyotes and I have lost many quackers to these hungry agressors.

Tis a problem, this mutual survival.

MadMike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MadMike said...

The raccoons have been forced from their natural habitat because of urban sprawl. I warrant they would much prefer to hunt in nature's forests as opposed to man's garbage cans.

In reality they are highly intelligent creatures that are devoted to their families. They, like the American Indian, have been maligned for years. Yes, they are wild animals, not pets, although I know many people who have them as pets. Unfortunately after puberty they will be as ready to bite you as to give you a kiss.

The "all raccoons have rabies" rumor is mostly a rumor. The "raccoons that come out in the day" have rabies" is also man made nonsense. A small percentage of these magnificent critters do carry the rabies titer, that, from time to time, if provoked to bite, can be transmitted. Those critters that wander about during the day usually are nursing mothers who spend all of their night time feeding and protecting their babies. They come out during the day to eat.

The best way to protect from raccoons is to buy the garbage cans with locking lids and don't put your dog food and cat food outside. If there is o food or water source they will move on. There is no reason to kill them or to sic your dog on them. It is not their fault they have been displaced from their homes. It's our fault....

SJ said...

@Beach Bum,
Yes, I agree. Raccoons are just doing their thing in a tighter space, as suburbs and exurbs spread, more backyards intersect their habitat. Same with Mountain Lions and Coyotes all around the country.
Still, those burglar masks make me reach for my wallet and keys.

Marja said...

Amusing your confrontation with the raccoon family Here we encounter not many animals. I only was eye in eye once with a possum which I thought were cute. He came up to our tent on the camping to find something to eat and when I turned on my torch and saw his sharp teeth. When he saw me he run of though

Beach Bum said...

Rhiannon: The funny thing about this berg I live in is that it has two main roads leading out toward Columbia with one narrowing down to a double lane, one side for each direction of traffic. Several years ago before I even lived her a plan was thought up to build a new road and widen the snarled two lane road that most people use.

The outrage was horrendous, people were furious that properties would have had to be condemned. Worse even taxes would have had to be raised and with this berg a blood red republican county well that didn't go anywhere.

SJ: I like Raccoons as much as anyone but screw the Disney-esque cuddly animal crap I wouldn't get near a wild one for a million dollars.

Goatman: You wrote:Tis a problem, this mutual survival.

Absolutely, and despite assurances from those great humanitarians in the republican party and their corporate hacks/masters unrestrained capitalism and bloated sprawl will come back to bite us one day with the raccoons batter able to make it through to the other side.

MadMike: Yeah, think I said all that.

SJ: While raccoons have the ability to mess someone up its the mountain lions you mentioned that send chills down my spine. My time in Colorado they had started building homes way up the in what had once been fairly rural country home to mountain lions. The nightly news often had reports of some jogger being stalked and attacked by a mountain lion but the most tragic was the story I heard of a little boy that disappeared while hiking through on a trail with a church group. I far as I know the body was never found but all authorities concerned felt a mountain lion had attacked dragging him off.

Marja: Yeah, we had a possum issue as well,I mentioned it in the post. My wife had come home rather late one night and forgot to close the garage door with the night getting cold. She walked back outside to get something off a shelf only to see the possum backed up into the corner scared silly over her approach. I figure the scream my wife out after seeing teh animal must have been heard for miles.

MadMike said...

Sorry Beach. I really didn't think you said all that, and I read your article 4 times. Regardless I said it again in a different way. I hope that's OK....

Hill said...

Very vivid description of your encounter. Could literally picture it.

Living out here in the country we see all kinds of wildlife.

Skunks are the enemy.

If you've ever been sprayed by one or one of your pets sprayed by one, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

OMFG, the funk is UNBEARABLE.

p.s. Saw an albino skunk scuttling across the back pasture once. Bizarre sight.


Nitu said...

Unfortunately encroachment of wild-land is a global disease now. Sometimes I just wish the end of human monopoly.

MadMike said...

I'm with Nitu!

Malicious Intent said...

Raccoons are nothing, apparently we have dog problem here. Second dog attack today here at the house of M.I. At least the Raccoons have an excuse...they sorta need forests to live in, which we keep chopping down for condos. Dogs, we keep breeding irresponsibly and then let them loose.

Beach Bum said...

MadMike: After reading your first comment I admit I was puzzled about how you missed some of the points. But after this weekend, it doesn't matter, I've lost all interest in the matter and even worse, have to go to work soon. The only one I didn't touch on was the rabies rumors concerning raccoons. Although, being raised down here, during my younger years rabies scared people just as much as described after Atticus Finch shoots the rabid dog in "To Kill a Mockingbird".

While it might have gotten lost in my anti-capitalist rant this post was about how urban sprawl has ruined the habitats of many animals. Of course, the mental quotes from papa raccoon were made up but other than that this is an extremely non-fiction story.

Hill: One of my old army buddies thought he was going to play Grizzly Adams and catch a skunk out during an field exercise one time. As you may imagine, it didn't go well and it was only after this guy "lost" a humvee out during fire cleanup after a live fire exercise was the skunk episode forgotten.

Nitu: I truly believe Mother Earth will correct that problem at some point. The current pandemic is just a minor side show compared to what will face.

Malicious Intent: I am so sorry, dropped by your place and left a comment.

Anonymous said...