JANAKI LENIN writes about a quarter century of adventures with animals while living with snakeman Rom Whitaker. Her first book ‘A King Cobra’s Summer’ for children was published by Pratham Books in 2011. It ranked among the top 12 publications for children for that year. A collection from her popular column in The Hindu ‘My Husband and Other Animals’ was published in 2012. My Husband and Other Animals 2 is the second volume that continues the adventure further. Below you can read an excerpt from My Husband and Other Animals 2. Read her interview here. Read the review of My Husband and Other Animals 2 here. Courtesy: Westland.
“Excerpt from My Husband and Other Animals 2”
I caught the masked ransacker red-handed. He had opened my bag and thrown my clothes and things around. Seated comfortably, cushioned amongst my clothes, he was engrossed in ‘washing’ something, by rubbing his hands together. He looked up at me as if to ask, ‘Did you want something?’ The raccoon had found a bag of peanuts, and flakes of the nuts’ brown skin lay sprinkled over my things. I carried the creature to the living room, where his cage stood empty and set him on the carpeted floor.
We had arrived moments earlier at the home of our friends, the Clamps, in Edisto Island, South Carolina. I ought not to have been surprised by the raccoon, since Sharon was known to adopt orphaned cubs.
As I watched the raccoon waddle across the floor, Sharon told me his mum had been run over while crossing a busy highway. The cub was too young to fend for himself. His curiosity, intelligence, and fearlessness reminded me of mongooses moving in slow motion. I had never seen a live raccoon before, and this was a delightful introduction.
Sharon said almost all her raccoons were quick to take to the wild. They ate anything, and could live anywhere. This lack of fussiness has stood the animals in good stead. The time we spent with the Clamps didn’t prepare me for my next raccoon experience.
A few days later, we were visiting a friend in West Virginia. It was late night when we returned to his home in the suburbs. JM slowed down to swing into the driveway and startled a raccoon that had been rummaging in the garbage bin. JM swore and cursed. The animals were disease-infested pests, he ranted.
In cities, garbage and pet food are plentiful year-round. Out in the American countryside, the animals forage for insects, fruits, nuts, and birds’ eggs. It is not surprising there are more raccoons compressed into urban areas than in rural farmlands.
Urban parks, such as Hugh Taylor Birch State Park in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., hold dense populations of raccoons, a couple of hundred plus per square kilometre. In comparison, the countryside has between four to 400 times fewer raccoons.
As if the plentiful garbage available on every street were not enough, some people, like JM’s neighbour, just can’t resist feeding these animals. This drives our friend apoplectic with rage.
Unperturbed by the acrimonious neighbourly relations, one raccoon made a den in another resident’s attic. Looking at that leafy suburb, I imagined raccoons enjoyed a better standard of living in cities than in the country.
However, life is not all hunky-dory for these freeloaders. Living off garbage has its price. Biologists have found plastic, rubber bands, and other indigestible objects in raccoon scat. Instead of fearsome predators and hunters, disease and road accidents kill a good percentage of citified raccoons.
With help from humans, raccoons have even crossed the Atlantic and colonized Europe. During the Second World War, some American soldiers kept raccoons as pets. When the men’s tour of duty ended, a few released their captives. In addition, a few escaped from raccoon fur farms established in eastern Europe. In a misguided attempt to ‘enrich’ the native fauna, some were deliberately released in a German forest during the Nazi era. Now there are breeding populations in many European countries.
In southeastern United States, raccoons wander along beaches feasting on sea turtle eggs, while in Europe, birds are especially vulnerable to their depredations. I find it hard to think of these cute creatures as pests, and I imagine the work of conservationists who have to control raccoon numbers must be tough.
If only all animals were as cute and capable of exploiting humans, we wouldn’t need to worry about their conservation.