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A Coatimundi In Search of Dinner

Updated on July 19, 2019
Chuck profile image

Having lived in Arizona for over 30 years, Chuck and his wife enjoy the great outdoors of the American Southwest.

Coatimundi Climbing Rock In Tucson Arizona's Colossal Cave Mountain Park

A White nosed Coatimundi (Nasua narica) looking toward tourists in Tucson's Colossal Cave Mountain Park
A White nosed Coatimundi (Nasua narica) looking toward tourists in Tucson's Colossal Cave Mountain Park | Source

Coatimundis - a Raccoon like Animal found in Southwestern United States

Coatis, also called coatimundis, are members of the raccoon family. Coatis are found in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona as well as in Central and South America. The name coatimundis appears to have come from one of the aboriginal languages in South America.

Like their raccoon cousins, coatis sport long bushy tails with rings similar to raccoon tails. However Coatis lack the mask of black hair that raccoons have around their eyes.

Another trait shared with raccoons is that coatis are double jointed and can rotate their ankles more than 180l degrees. Their long tail is non-prehensile meaning it cannot be used to wrap around an object like a tree branch thereby allowing the coati to suspend themselves upside down from a tree branch.

Coati Leaving Visitor Center Area and Heading Toward Desert Below

This Coati or Coatimundi Leaving Visitor Center area and heading back toward the desert below.
This Coati or Coatimundi Leaving Visitor Center area and heading back toward the desert below.

Please Don’t Feed the Animals

For the past three generations or more, Americans have been lectured by park rangers, conservationists, posters and other media warning them not to feed the wild animals found in our parks and wilderness areas.

The purpose of the warnings is two fold. First, the animals are wild and in their eagerness to get free food may end up biting (or worse) the proverbial hands that are trying to feed them. Second, the animals may come to rely on and possibly come to prefer the taste of these handouts causing them to forget how hunt for their food in the wild.

Coatimundi Making Sure No One Takes His Lunch

Nobody Has Told the Animals to Stop Soliciting and Eating Human Food

Meanwhile wild animals continue to simply ignore the Don’t Feed the Animals exhortations from park rangers and others to stick to their traditional food sources just as the fictional Yogi Bear (star of the popular 1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoon series The Yogi Bear Show) continued to steal the picnic baskets of visitors in the fictional Jellystone National Park despite the best efforts of Ranger Smith to get him to stop.

While fewer people are deliberately handing out food to animals, many are careless when it comes to leaving uneaten food on a picnic table or carelessly leaving their food within easy reach of wild critters.

Then there are trash receptacles into which tons of discarded food is deposited along with other trash. There are some sophisticated ones that animals, and humans who don’t take time to read the directions, are unable to open. However, there are still many which don’t take a rocket scientist, or even a regular human, to figure out how to open them.

Coatimundi Hoping to Find a Tourist Giving Out Treats

Coati climbing over wall and looking for tourists with food on Visitor Center Patio
Coati climbing over wall and looking for tourists with food on Visitor Center Patio

A Coatimundi In Search of a Free Lunch

I recently ran into an enterprising coatimundi as he was searching for food in the parking lot of Colossal Cave Mountain Park southeast of Tucson, Arizona. I say he because male coatimundi tend to be loners while the females of the species are found in packs numbering 5 to 20 or so females and young. Males join the packs during the breeding season but are kicked out before the young are born as the males tend to eat the young.

This Coati seemed to be moving with a destination in mind and that destination turned out to be a grey, plastic trash can sitting at the edge of the parking lot.

Reaching the trash can he sniffed around the base and then proceeded to climb up the can and work his way around to the flap at the entrance. Pushing the flap in with his nose and turning his back feet completely around so that he could grasp the outer edge of the trash can with his rear claws and toes he went head first into the can hanging on by his rear toes.

Coati Heading Across Parking Lot Toward Trashcan

This Coati, knowing (probably from past success) that the trashcan will probably contain food, heads across parking lot toward the trashcan
This Coati, knowing (probably from past success) that the trashcan will probably contain food, heads across parking lot toward the trashcan

As he sifted through the trash inside with his nose and head he used his long tail to keep his balance just like a tightrope walker uses his hands and arms to balance while walking on the tightrope.

The coati resurfaced three or four times holding a clump of discarded food wrappers in his mouth. Turning around on the edge of the trash can he leaned over, opened his mouth and dropped the papers on the ground before returning to his search for food in the trash can.

After about four dives he returned with a paper with what looked like a partially eaten burrito or chimichanga wrapped inside it. Hanging on to his new found dinner he climbed back down to the ground where he found a good spot a few feet away where he sat down and began removing the paper and tortilla which were covering the meat he sought.

Coatimundi Climbing Up the Trashcan

The Coati probably had previous experience as he knew the best way to climb up and where to enter the trashcan
The Coati probably had previous experience as he knew the best way to climb up and where to enter the trashcan

Coati Not Concerned With My Presence

This coati didn’t seem to be too concerned about my presence although he did keep an eye on me while I stayed back about 10 feet and didn’t make any fast or threatening moves toward him.

I suspect that he was more concerned about me taking his food than threatening him with harm. Given our location in a parking lot next to the visitor center he was probably used to humans being present.

Hanging On With His Rear Claws and Balancing With His Tail the Coati Dives Head First into the Trashcan

Creatures in the Wild are Like Our Children When it Comes to Making Food Choices

Other than being cooked and seasoned the contents of the chimichanga were not that different than his regular diet. Coatimundi are omnivores whose foods tend to be fruits, ground insects (such as spiders, ants, termites, centipedes, etc), scorpions, lizards, small rodents, bird eggs and, occasionally, a slow moving bird.

From the point of view of the coatimundi the partially eaten chimichanga not only provided a greater quantity of food with less time and effort than hunting in the wild, the meat and other ingredients mixed with it were the same type of food he hunted in the wild.

Like our children, the coatimundi and other wildlife will choose short term satisfaction and ignore potential long term consequences.

Given this fact, park rangers and other wildlife managers should start encouraging people to look upon wildlife as children who will always choose short term satisfaction rather than consider their long term welfare.

When Visiting the Great Outdoors Manage Your Trash Wisely

When it comes to disposing of trash in the wild we should limit what we deposit in regular trash cans to non-edible items and wait until we find an animal proof unit to dispose of edible trash (actually there was a large animal proof waste container about 300 feet away from the plastic trash container the coati climbed into).

Better still save both money and calories by buying only the food you can completely consume when touring the great outdoors.

Coatimundi Raiding a Trashcan

© 2019 Chuck Nugent

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    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      3 weeks ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Liz - thanks for the kind comments. Old letters and photos, especially ones from before I was born do give interesting insight into the lives and thinking of relatives from the past.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      3 weeks ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Linda Crampton - Thanks for visiting and commenting on this Hub article. It was an interesting experience watching that Coati operate. Thanks again for your comment

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      3 weeks ago from UK

      I regret now not asking more questions of older relatives who are no longer here. When my husband's grandfather's house was cleared out, fortunately letters and photos from the 2nd World War were kept. They gave an interesting insight into his character and the trauma of the war years. I wish you well in sorting through the papers. There never seem to be enough hours in the day to do all we want to.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an interesting and informative article. I loved lookiing at your photos and the videos. You've shared an important message about feeding wild animals, too.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      3 weeks ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Liz - I remember my Father telling stories from his experience in the Pacific in World War 2 and my great-uncle Walt telling some stories about WW I when I was growing up. My siblings and I were very lucky because my father kept a journal which he sent to my mother as he wrote it (she saved it along with all of his letters to her - he sent her letters to him to his mother to see and save but she ended up moving a couple of times and they got thrown out). My father dug up the journal a few years before he died and typed it out and gave each of us a copy before he died. One of my nieces transcribed them in a word processing file so I now have both his journal and copies of his letters. As to my great uncle Walt, his wife, my great aunt, saved all his letters to her as well as some he sent to others who gave them to her after they had read them. These letters were among the things she saved from them after their deaths (apparently no one else back home was interested in them). These sat in my parents attic and my older sister took possession of them after my parents died (I live on the other side of the country and wasn't around when the house was being cleaned out). My sister never got time to do anything with them and when she became ill recently my younger sister shipped a couple dozen boxes of old family papers and pictures to me and among the things I received were my fathers WW II letters to my mother and my great-uncle Walt's WW I letters. I am trying to scan, organize and do something with all this material. My poor wife keeps the house looking spotless except for my work room which is piled with clutter.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      3 weeks ago from UK

      That sounds like a fascinating story about Gibraltar. My husband's grandfather started to recount his memories of World War 2 towards the end of his life. My grandfather used to tell of his time in the desert in World War 1. Now they are long gone I wish I had asked more.

    • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

      Chuck Nugent 

      4 weeks ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Liz - I'm glad you enjoyed the Hub. Thanks for the comment. I guess the macaques are the monkeys that my great-uncle Walt used to tell us about when I was young. The ship that brought him and his fellow soldiers home from France after World War I stopped in Gibraltar and he got to visit it. I think I have some pictures of it in one of his old photo albums around here somewhere. Thanks again for your comment.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      4 weeks ago from UK

      This reminds me of the macaques on Gibraltar. Some are known to venture down off the rock and get into people's houses in search of food. We were met by one waiting for us to exit a gift shop on the rock. This is a thoight-provoking article, well-written with great illustrations.

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