Trash Pandas: Robbers in Disguise

Published: 2022-10-01 00:00:00

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Adorable as they may seem, those little furry cat-like thumb-having trash pandas may actually be little evil geniuses. A researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, has observed how tactile raccoons are and has given some serious thought to how they use their little bandit hands for just about everything. The researcher assembled a team that formally explored the cognitive ability of raccoons based on their ability to learn things like flexibility.

What they came to find was a few things, the first being that raccoons observed to be docile were more adaptable to foreign situations. The team studied raccoons in Laramie, Wyoming, using the "bag and tag" method. We kind of made that name up, but essentially, they would lure wild raccoons in with food, observe their behavior in captivity, tag them, and then release them between 2015 and 2019. The raccoons were either determined to be docile or aggressive before release based on their response to captivity (being vocal, refusing food and water, and reaching through the cage vs calmly waiting to be released, accepting resources, and remaining silent) prior to release.

The first two years were spent bagging and tagging, and the last year is where the cognitive testing happened. The team placed a Skinner box, which is basically a puzzle box where the raccoon can learn to operate the box to get a reward, in this case dog food. What the team found was that the more docile raccoons were able to learn to operate the box and successfully obtain food. What does this mean for people who want to kidnap raccoons off the street to be pets? Well, if the docile raccoons are the ones who are able to learn, it'll be like having a sneaky toddler in your house

Raccoons, like other animals, have had to adapt to growing human populations and communities, but that does not always mean that the animal will coexist peacefully. Keep in mind - they observed about 40 of the more than 200 tagged raccoons interact with the Skinner box, which is nowhere near a group large enough for statistical power, but it does make for interesting observations, especially considering the rise in the number of people keeping raccoons as pets or outdoor companions.

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