When you’re imagining scientific research, you’re probably picturing a bunch of people dressed in lab coats leaning over desks and staring at papers. Or something like that, anyway. For the most part you’d be right, as scientific studies require countless hours of compiling data. It’s the collecting of the data that’s the fun part. Proving once again that researchers can have fun as well, a team of researchers reported scaring raccoons for the ecosystem’s greater good.
Trash pandas in British Columbia
There’s a good reason why raccoons are referred to as trash pandas. They may look cute, but they are very resilient in getting what they want – usually garbage. But those are city raccoons. The animals living in the wild are far more adept, knowing to fish, how to crack open crabs, and even how to catch birds.
A certain population of the bear’s distant cousin live on the Gulf Islands in British Columbia, and they’re have the best time ever. With most large predators eliminated from the island some 100 years ago, the raccoons kind of run the place, wreaking havoc on the environment since they have nothing to fear.
For the greater good
In order to test a theory and to hopefully restore balance to the ecosystem, a team of researchers from the Western University performed one of the strangest experiments in recent memory – they scared the living daylights out of raccoons.
The idea behind the experiment was that if raccoons feel threatened, they tend to stop excessive foraging, reverting back to their scavenging lifestyles, instead of just going around, doing anything they please like they ran the place.
Of course, the experiment had a noble cause, since the raccoon population was slowly but surely eliminating the songbird and intertidal crab populations of the island, eating as much as they could just because they could. This is where the researchers stepped in.
By playing recorded noises, both threatening and non-threatening, the researchers managed to lower the percentage of the raccoon’s foraging by a whopping 66%. And the raccoons are still foraging more than they need to, even though far lesser.
The noises went on for months, with the researchers going for a scarecrow type situation. By playing both threatening (wild dogs barking) and non-threatening (seals and birds) noises, the scientists alternated luring the animals into a sense of security and scaring them half to death.
This caused the entire ecosystem to shift, with other animal populations starting to flourish again, while the raccoons simply didn’t overeat as much. Hopefully, this study will help the researchers prove that reintroducing a controlled number of animals from a predatory species in an area would be helpful for the entire ecosystem.
Image source: Wikimedia