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How a popular anime caused a raccoon infestation in Japan

4 min read

When people see something on TV or in movies, it often triggers an increase in popularity of those specific things. Including animals.
A 2014 study, in fact, stated that in the 1940s, there was a 40 percent increase in collie adoptions after “Lassie Come Home”, and people also bought dalmatians after “101 Dalmatians,” St. Bernards after “Beethoven,” and even chihuahuas after “Legally Blonde”.
In the ’70s, the same happened with raccoons in Japan.
Well, raccoons are not native to Japan, yet in the last few decades, the furry critters have become naturalized in 44 of the country’s 47 prefectures, causing all sorts of problems for humans and other animal species.
But probably you don’t know that it all started with a cute anime series!

It was 1963 when American writer Sterling North launched his most popular book “Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era”.
In short, It told the story of a young boy called Sterling who went on adventures with his raccoon sidekick Rascal, and it became such a huge hit that Disney decided to turn it into a live-action movie.
Meanwhile, in Japan, Rascal’s adventures inspired a 52-episode anime series called Araiguma Rasakaru, literally “Rascal the Raccoon”, which ran for a year in 1977 and made raccoons the most sought-after pets in the country at the time.
Because kids and not only were so delighted by the tale of a young boy and his friend, many of them decided they wanted a raccoon friend, too.
But there was just one problem: there were no raccoons in Japan, so people started importing them from the United States at a rate of about 1,500 animals per month.
However, If the people who wanted raccoons for pets had bothered reading the end of the book or watching the entire anime series, they would have realized that mature raccoons don’t make great pets.
It turns out, in fact, the tale didn’t have such a happy ending: young Sterling realizes wild animals meant to live in the wild, so he releases him.
Real families in Japan who had imported raccoons as pets were discovering the same thing, and the same did many of the families foolish enough to adopt baby raccoons as pets.

When the Japanese government realized what was going on, eventually ended up banning the import of raccoons, but it was too late to reverse the damage, as the resourceful mammals had already driven other wild species away, destroyed crops, traditional wooden temples and houses, and there was little to do to stop them.
There were tens of thousands of them, all breeding at an uncontrollable speed.
As a result, with tens of thousands of raccoons imported in a matter of months, and with no natural predators, there was little the Japanese government could do to keep things under control.
In cities, they started going through the trash in search of food, even attacking people who got between them and their trash.
According to a 2004 report, the animals have ruined crops ranging from corn and rice to melons and strawberries, and now they are responsible for about $300,000 worth of agricultural damage each year on the island of Hokkaido alone.

Actually Japan has its own raccoon species, tanuki, the raccoon dog, but it can’t compete with the common raccoon in terms of adaptability, so it is in danger of losing its territory, together with red foxes and owls and also other native species, as they’ve made meals of snakes, frogs, butterflies, bees, cicadas and shellfish.
They compete for the same resources, but the American raccoon is so much better at securing them.
In an attempt to keep raccoons from destroying agricultural crops, traditional wooden temples, and houses, some Japanese prefectures have taken the controversial decision to cull the animals.
This has attracted the wrath of animal rights activists and did little in terms of controlling raccoon numbers.

Despite the raccoon infestation currently plaguing Japan, the anime that started it all is still hugely popular, and people continues to love Rascal as always, even if raccoons are best left in their natural North American habitats…and on TV.

Images from web – Google Research

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