“This is maybe step one towards domestication,” said Benjamin Geffroy, a biologist on the University of Montpellier in France. “Now we’d like to know more about what comes first, docility or cognitive abilities.”
Some research suggests the technique of domestication changes how animals think. Dogs, for instance, are higher than wolves or nonhuman primates at following some human gestures, resembling pointing to hidden food.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that raccoons will soon be reading our gestures. But living alongside animals that could be evolving to use our presence might mean people need to raised understand how the animals think with a purpose to avoid conflicts with them, the researchers said.
Raccoons, nevertheless, could possibly be particularly difficult. Working with captive raccoons has convinced Dr. Benson-Amram that they really enjoy cognitive challenges. “We give them problems, and even when there’s no reward, they only keep going for it,” she said.
Raccoons in urban environments will also be remarkably persistent, said Suzanne MacDonald, an animal behavior scientist at York University in Toronto. For one study, she put an open can of cat food in a trash bin, secured the lid with a bungee cord and deployed it in backyards to see how raccoons would react.
“I had one female spend like eight hours attempting to get in,” Dr. MacDonald said. “And she or he did.”
Raccoons are sometimes perceived as invasive, Dr. MacDonald said, but humans are those who invaded their land.
“These guys have found out a approach to live with us,” she said. “Surely to God, we are able to use our giant cortexes and work out a approach to live with them.”
Betsy Mason is a contract journalist and a 2022 Alicia Patterson Foundation fellow.