Kenwood Press

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Living with Wildlife: 04/15/2014

Jane Goodall, Flamenco dancing and raccoons

I've met a few old souls in my day and it makes me think about reincarnation. Nobody really knows if there is such a thing, but just in case, I would like to put in a request right now to please, please, please send me back as a raccoon.

Others came to mind: Jane Goodall, Isak Dinesen, Joy Adamson, and Christina Hoyas. Jane Goodall, who as a young, untrained researcher studied chimpanzees and discovered their use of tools, is at the top of my most admired list. Then there was Joy Adamson of Born Free fame, who along with her husband George raised and released Elsa, the orphaned lioness. They were among the first wildlife rehabilitators. Isak Dinesen's memoir Out Of Africa is one of my all-time favorite books. It would be fun to come back as Cristina Hoyas, the famous Flamenco dancer. How I'd love to be able to stomp my feet like that, wear those beautiful dresses and sing those passionate songs.

I get a lot of vicarious pleasure imagining myself as any one of those women, but, after giving it careful consideration, I think I would like to experience life as a wild animal. Throughout my life, I have gotten so much joy from animals, both domestic and wild. It would be quite an experience to live like one. And what's not to like about a raccoon? They are intelligent, beautiful, charismatic, and very clever.

People who know me, know that I've had a love affair with raccoons for many years now. I have fallen in love with each and every one that has been in my care, including the one or two who wanted to kill me. I observe them as much as I possibly can, and they seem to be as fascinated with me as I am with them. They have taught me a lot about their species.

I know that life as a wild animal won't be easy. We humans tend to romanticize their lives, thinking about how wild and free they are, and while it is true that I would no longer have to bother about cleaning the house, paying the bills, or wondering what to wear, I would have to find my own food every day, keep away from predators and other hazards, and be on the lookout for a mate. These three things are what drive the life of a wild animal. They need to survive and they need to reproduce.

Raccoons predate humans by millions of years, and that long history of experience has made them a very successful species. Of all the mammal species that we work with at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, raccoons are the most intelligent. (Corvids - crows, ravens, jays, etc. - are the smarty pants of birds, and are considered among the most intelligent of all animals.)

Another admirable trait of the raccoon is that both young and mature adults enjoy play. For me there is nothing more endearing than watching the little ones play, and play they do! Raccoons seem to have a joy of life, despite the fact that life can be tough. I admire their attitude. Finally, raccoon mothers are among the very best. I do my best to raise orphaned raccoons, but know I can't possibly do as good a job as their natural mother would do. If I can come back as a raccoon, I would have a chance to really raise them properly.

Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at

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