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Life Off-the-Grid

Raccoons in the Neighbourhood

By Cam Mather

I once watched a documentary about bacteria that are becoming resistant to multiple antibiotics like MRSE (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus epidermidis). It used to be that bacteria had to encounter an antibiotic to become resistant to it. Once it had been in contact it would figure out a way to get around it, kind of like insects with pesticides. But now bacteria are just passing off antibiotic resistance without ever having encountered the actual antibiotic. So bacteria “A” is swimming around and meets up with bacteria “B” which has developed resistance to say penicillin, and they shake hands and “B” passes the genetic info required to get around penicillin to “A.” Pretty awesome for such simple little creatures.

This is a round about way to talk about raccoons.

When we moved to our place in the woods we immediately noticed the raccoons. They were running roughshod all over the place. They particularly liked stealing the cat food from our barn cats. Eventually Morgan the Wonder Dog arrived and the raccoons wisely chose to move on.

Before Morgan’s arrival though we bought a “Hava-hart” live trap. And I trapped raccoons. I also once trapped a skunk and luckily my calm wife released it, because I wasn’t going anywhere near it. The raccoons would walk into the trap to get to bowl of cat food and get caught. The trap went off. They were caught. Then I drove them down the road, far from anyone else, to release them.

This year we had been enjoying a great feed of strawberries from our patch. Then it appeared that something was eating them and since we saw some birds fly away when we walked past, we assumed it was birds and we put down some netting to keep them out. But still the strawberries were being eaten. Then one night I was walking back from my nightly trek to scare off deer and as I walked past the strawberries and a raccoon bolted past my feet.

This happened just after our dog Morgan passed away and it made me miss Morgan all the more, knowing how he had kept all these pests at bay. So I immediately resurrected the trap and set it up as I did before with a plastic container with some dog food in it.

The next morning the cage was turned over and the food had been eaten.

I realized that the raccoons are getting smart. So I grabbed some tent pegs and really strapped the trap to the ground for the second night. The next morning the plastic was upset and the sand under the trap had been excavated so that the raccoon could get the food that fell down through the cage. Wow. Really clever.

The next night I wired the plastic container to the floor of the cage, then wired a piece of wood under the area where the food was, so even if it were tipped over, it wouldn’t fall through the cracks. Obviously I had them this time. The poor raccoon had met its match.

But I was wrong on that count. This time the raccoon pulled out the metal arm that connects the floor plate that the animal is supposed to step on to release and close the trap door behind them. How did it know to do this? I had a hard enough time figuring out how the darn contraption worked. This furry rodent-like creature had disarmed it, in the middle of the night.

Since it couldn’t tip the trap, I think once it disarmed the trip arm, the raccoon went into the trap and pulled the plastic container off, because the wire wasn’t that strong.

So finally I got a can, drilled holes in it, bolted it to the cage held in place with a piece of steel on the outside, then bolted the wood plate to the bottom. I also drove two stakes into the ground beside the trigger arm, which prevented it from being pulled out.

And low and behold, 5 nights later, I finally had the culprit.

So what has changed in the 12 years since we acquired Morgan? Before the raccoons just wandered in and got caught. It was like a new breed of raccoon had been to some “Hava-hart” live trap-dismantling workshop where they learned strategies to outfox the stupid human. I’m sure it was laughing the whole time it was getting around my booby-traps.

Actually I think one of its parents or ancestors had encountered one of these traps and passed along the tips to the young’uns. Either that or the previous generation had just acquired this knowledge and had passed it along in its DNA. That’s what I think.

I reset the trap the second night and caught another raccoon. A few days went by without catching another one, but by then the strawberries were long gone. Then 4 days later, after driving the first raccoon 7 kms down the road, I caught the first one again. I could tell because it had a big scar on its head that I think you can see from the photo. It seemed kind of weird that it was smart enough to stay out of the trap 4 nights, then just walk right in and get caught again without a fight. This time I took it 12 kms away and it hasn’t returned.

Now it’s corn season. Raccoons always attack my corn on windy nights so that I can’t hear them having their little corn party in the garden. And like drunken buffoons they just pull down stalks, take one or two bites out of an ear and then move on to the next one. That’s the part that really annoys me. It’s one thing to eat my corn, but it’s another thing entirely to waste it!

So “Jasper the Lightning Bolt Dog” is now on the job and hopefully the raccoons will be smart enough to stay away. If not, Jasper and I will be camped out in the garden.

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