Trash Panda is a cutesy nickname for a medium size critter for which I have massive respect — the raccoon.
It ranks among the critters I have the most respect for, a group that includes coyotes, crows, and a few others that are smart and adaptable to a point where they can survive and thrive almost anywhere.
Raccoons are found worldwide from what I’ve read and the stories I’ve heard. They can make do in just about any environment. Some of their family members are bears and weasels, who are also known to be adaptive.
“Coons” as they have been called for hundreds of years (maybe thousands) have always been a fur animal, and Daniel Boone was well-known for wearing a coonskin cap.
Raccoons are crepuscular, or most active at dusk and dawn, but generally nocturnal, meaning they can peacefully coexist with humans, since we are most active during the day shift of life.
They are adaptive omnivores, content eating fruits, nuts (like acorns), rodents, insects and shellfish. Their gold mine of foodstuffs however is our trash cans, which earned them their nickname of trash pandas because they love our trash and they are cute as pandas.
There is a large mama raccoon who raises her little ones most springtimes in my neighbor’s thick pine tree. Between that critter and a skunk that likes to hang around, I don’t have many problems with rodents and large insects. Bluebelly lizards however manage to live and thrive, but they are most active around midday, when the ground warms up.
Each spring my family leaves a few treats on the fence, to help the busy mama coon. We tried leaving the top open on the trash can, but then we had a mess to clean up each morning, so we began leaving her treats instead. We left fruits, small pieces of leftover meats, nuts, and her favorite — which was whatever we had for dessert.
That puts me in mind of a family camping trip to Yosemite Valley when I was in my late teens. My younger sister was sitting on a boulder eating a Twinkie when a raccoon jumped up on the boulder a few feet away, stood upright, raised its front paws high and kinda kissed at her. My sister dropped the Twinkie and bolted.
I just laughed and said, “Score one for the raccoon.” That trick doesn’t work often, but when it does, I’m sure the raccoon thinks it is a funniest thing ever while it munches its reward.
Another encounter I recall was when I was a teen hanging out at a friend’s house. His mom let out a shriek when she realized that half of her jewelry collection was missing. Turns out we found almost all items in a small pool of water in a tire leaned up against the garage. Trash pandas are skilled at stealing, and they love washing shiny things.
One necklace was still missing, and we saw it a few days later hanging in a big tree in the back yard. It was just costume jewelry anyway, so my friend and I didn’t say a word and let the critter keep one piece.
My deal with my local trash panda is that it is welcome, I’ll talk to it in the evenings, and I’ll leave treats outside. But the thieving varmint must stay out of my house.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.