Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Masked Ones

Tuesday was my lucky extra volunteer showed up at the nursery so I got to help with the baby raccoons. Oh, it's not a glamorous job. Their leftover food dishes (from overnight) are stinky and the job requires scooping poop...but I loved it anyway. This is exactly what I wanted - exposure to the different animals.

I learned a few things very quickly:
1. When you reach in the cage with 4 rambunctious and hungry critters, don't let your fingers and thumbs stick out. One thought my thumb was a baby bottle and latched on. He didn't break skin, but I wasn't sure how long he was going to keep my thumb before realizing it wasn't going to produce any milk!
2. Raccoons growl. And they hiss. Wow, one angry little (or not so little, actually) gave me a scare when I tried to get his dishes. So, I graciously refused to clean his cage! Ha! I figured Nick was better trained to handle this newcomer. But he even made Nick worried.
3. Their little hands with opposable thumbs are very ape- or human-like. And they'll reach thru the bars and grab at your shirt or your mask. With the cages stacked three high and your focused on one level its hard to remember not to put your face too close to another row of cages.
4. They will walk out of the cages. Intelligence level: unknown at this time. It's a big drop out of the 2nd or 3rd row for these little guys, so I was surprised to find that they'll walk straight out of the cage into thin air when they're excited and hungry. I wonder if they fall out of trees often at this age?
5. They love to climb. Up and down the cage doors.
6. They talk to each other constantly. Little noises and squeals. But that cute little chitter chatter turns to a toothy-screeching when they get hungry.
7. They love being together. They lay on top of each other. When they come in alone, they get a stuffed animal or two to snuggle with. So sweet.

To reduce "imprinting", there are strict rules in the raccoon nursery. We have to wear camouflage masks, gloves, and we are to keep talking down to minimal necessity. This way the raccoons don't associate humans with food, or lose their fear of humans, so they can be released back into the wild.


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