Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Raccoons Loose in Lownsdale Square!

That sounds better than "loose raccoons in Lownsdale Square," but either way, the point is this: in the predawn hours of this morning, I encountered a living raccoon in Lownsdale Square in the heart of downtown Portland, wallowing in the moonlight within a stone's throw (depending on your stone-throwing ability) of the elk statue shown here. It would have been terrifying if raccoons were the least bit terrifying, but they're not.

They are, however, now widespread in Germany of all places, having been introduced there in the 1930s by people who were apparently bored with the existing animals:

On April 12, 1934, two pairs of raccoons were released into the German nature at the Edersee in the north of Hesse by forest superintendent Wilhelm Freiherr Sittich von Berlepsch upon request of their owner, the poultry farmer Rolf Haag. He released them two weeks before receiving permission from the Prussian hunting office to “enrich the fauna”, as Haag's request stated. Several prior attempts to introduce raccoons in Germany were not successful.
At the risk of enraging my German readers, this passage gives me pause on two accounts. First, what kind of fauna was so impoverished in mid-1930's Germany that raccoons represented an enrichment? In my experience, raccoons enrich nothing: every raccoon looks exactly like the last, and apart from their charming (if slightly worrying) habit of obsessive hands-washing, they offer precious little in terms of culture or entertainment. They steal pet food, make few sounds, waddle around aimlessly, and end their lives in vehicular traffic. Second, I'm trying to imagine how one would fail to introduce raccoons to an area. Simply set a mixed-sex group of them free and wait, and soon they'll be waddling in front of every car in sight.

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