As a raccoon spent much of Tuesday climbing a 25-story skyscraper in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, the world watched, terrified that this suspense story would end in a tragic plummet. (It didn’t.)
Suzanne MacDonald, a York University psychologist who studies urban raccoons, was similarly gripped, but she wasn’t worried about its hero. Why? Because raccoons – as their black masks might suggest – have “quite a few superpowers,” she explained not long after the drama ended Wednesday morning. The most obvious of those talents: a crack climbing ability.
The furry carnivores, which are native to North America and have thrived in its cities, possess limbs with great strength and five-toed paws with long claws and incredible dexterity. Those allow them to break open clams and trash bins, and to scale construction cranes and chimneys and soaring trees. Their hind feet can rotate 180 degrees for easy descent. Vertigo almost certainly doesn’t afflict them.
St. Paul’s UBS Tower, with its pebbly surface, presented no major challenge other than its height, which would have exhausted even an Ironman raccoon. By the time MacDonald tuned into the drama Tuesday evening, the animal was napping on the 23rd-floor window ledge, and she said she knew it was “headed for the top and was just taking a break.”
Both raccoon experts – there are not many in the world of academia, despite the animal’s reputation for intelligence – said they cheered the Minnesota critter’s feat as a chance for raccoons to be admired rather than maligned as pests, “trash pandas” and disease carriers. Sure, they can be all those things, they say. But raccoons are also impressive survivors and clever, in their own go-for-it way.
Not that #MPRraccoon would have been happy about having gone for the peak. MacDonald said it probably got into that spot thanks to another power that is only sometimes super: neophilia. Urban raccoons, unlike their rural brethren, tend to approach new things. That can get them warm nesting spots in attics but also get them sheepishly stuck atop cranes. This one, which the company that trapped it early Wednesday told the Star-Tribune was a young female – probably started out by pursuing eggs in pigeon nests on a lower ledge of the office complex, MacDonald said, then got spooked and went up when construction workers offered it a makeshift ladder to help it reach the ground.
When the poor creature reached the roof of the building, she spotted some cat food without realizing that it was in a trap.
She’s being released in the suburbs according to the trappers.