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Stranger in Paradise

Friday, January 27, 2017 - 04:00 AM

(Photo Credit: Guillaume Aricique)
Back in 1911, a box with a dead raccoon in it showed up in Washington D.C., at the office of Gerrit S. Miller. After pulling it out and inspecting it, he realized this raccoon was from the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe, and unlike anything he’d ever seen before.  He christened it Procyon minor and in doing so changed the history of Guadeloupe forever.  

Today we travel from the storage rooms of the Smithsonian to the sandy beaches of Guadeloupe, chasing the tale of this trash can tipping critter. All the while trying to uncover what it means to be special. 

Produced and reported by Simon Adler.

Special thanks to Sally Stainier and Allie Pinel for all their help translating in Guadeloupe and New York respectively. 

Thanks to Bernie Beelmeon, Paola Dvihally, Hervé Magnin, Guillaume Aricique, Laurence Baptiste-Salomon, David Xavier-Albert, Florian Kirchner, Matt Chew, and everyone at the ONCFS. 

 

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Comments [26]

Mike Walter from North Carolina

Hello, I love this show. Your episodes are always interesting. This episode in particular was great in that it kept revealing new layers through out. However, I think it's important to note how pervasive and disruptive invasive species are on so many levels. I felt this episode was a little light on their threat to diversity. Sure raccoons are uncommonly capable of living well with humans and off the refuse of society, but there are many more examples where invasive species are uncommonly capable of outcompeting species, populations or entire trophic levels of relatively balanced ecosystems. The question of whether we are cruel to kill or manage one animal in order to attempt to save potentially large components of entire ecosystems (and a lot more animals/plants/fungus) gets more clear when you look at a bigger picture. Invasive species are a legacy of our species' uniquely uniform distribution across the globe. Maybe the planet hasn't balanced from our own recent and explosive emergence in the global ecosystem.

In this particular example on Guadaloupe however, it seems that this invasive species and the species most impacted by their presence, humans, are in a relationship both deem mutually beneficial. The raccoons get to exist as furry rascals and the humans have a national symbol they can rally around. I say if the islanders are ok with them, let them be as there isn't much threat that these new invaders will spread from the island (as if they weren't everywhere already).

Feb. 17 2017 09:08 AM
Ray from Arizona

I find this very interesting, though some of the comments are picking on the islanders may not be correct, after being told something is rare for so long is now a pest, when it was a pest all along to them but also something special. We should not be so critical as we do the same thing here in the US. Is there a genetic difference between the mount graham's red squirrel and the red squirrel that can be a pest in you attic? What about the New Mexico Meadow Jumping Mouse and the meadow jumping mouse, who can tell the difference except where it may be living. It some times appears that we can create new species to meet an objective, weather it is the privilege to name a species or to meet some other objective, usually not entirely for the benefit of the species.

Feb. 15 2017 10:20 PM
Hugh from Sydney

I love the show. It's unmissable.

This episode was no exception.

The locals who ignored the science that the raccoon was imported/invasive reminds me of climate change deniers. Their own world view overriding important scientific realities.

It is an interesting insight into that mindset.

Feb. 13 2017 06:36 AM
Tara B from San Francisco

A quick discussion about the impact of colonialism and racism on Guadalupe and the collision of values is necessary and missing. The Conservationist approach is not patently better or righter than the Guadalupean approach to their pest-pets, this is where colonialism has entered and obscured the discourse.

Feb. 08 2017 02:20 PM
Serge Halvorsen from New Haven

Dear Radiolab,

Your show is, hands down, one of the very best ever! Distilled digital audio awesomeness every time.

I recently listened to Stranger in Paradise and I laughed out loud during the sponsor break for Rocket Mortgage in the middle of the show.

Rocket Mortgage -> Rocket the cybernetically modified raccoon (Guardians of the Galaxy) -> guadeloupe raccoon

BWAHAHAHA!

Well played Radiolab, well played indeed!

Feb. 07 2017 07:01 PM
Suzanne from Paris, France

Hi Radiolab!
I just want to make a quick correction. At the beginning of the episode, Guadeloupe as a French oversees department is described as a "territory." It's actually more like the French equivalent of Hawaii. Administratively speaking, Guadeloupe is as much a part of mainland France as l'Aquitaine or Ile de France.

France also has territories which are named "territoires."
Just like how Puerto Rico is a territory of the US.

Anyway,
Thank you for making my commute 1000x better.

Feb. 04 2017 02:41 AM
Andrew from Seattle, WA

What's the name of the song in the background around 27-28 minutes of the podcast?
Thanks!

Feb. 03 2017 05:12 PM
Kevin Acosta from Los Angeles

The Cozumel Raccoon is an island raccoon that has been called a separate species, that's just up the coast in the Caribbean, in Mexico. Give it enough time and the Guadeloupe Raccoon may become their local equivalent.

I thought they were similar when at the opening of the program you mentioned that the raccoon was smaller than the mainland counterparts, which is one of the traits of the Cozumel raccoon.

Anyway, I love trash pandas. I don't encourage people keeping them as pets, but they are smart animals.

Feb. 02 2017 12:53 PM
Robert Taylor-Jones from UK

Really interesting episode!

It reminded me of an excellent book I read recently that mentioned the Racoon story in passing: "Where Do Camels Belong?" By Ken Thompson.

It's a book that basically sets out to demolish the entire idea of "invasive" species as an inherently negative thing. And I think it makes a really compelling case. It certainly rubbishes the idea of animals "belonging" anywhere, which I noticed one of the scientists on your programme said.

Like, take these racoons. They were a rare endemic species, so of course they had to be protected. Then they were an endangered species and had to be controlled. But the whole time the racoons were doing the same thing! Whether they were eating the eggs of rare birds or controlling the populations of pests or whatever, they were doing it just as well or badly before as they are now. The good of the whole ecosystem is the most important thing, surely?

I'd really recommend the book, anyway. Love the show.

Jan. 31 2017 04:15 PM
ky from NYC

WHAT song is playing at the end of this episode?! it SLAPS! Also RadioLab is amazing.

Jan. 31 2017 02:38 PM
Sjoerd van Leeuwen from Amsterdam

Hey Radiolab,

I really loved the episode! A couple of years back I made an artwork about the "nazi raccoons" from Germany. I cycled back to their point of origin from the Netherlands (where I live) and found the tree into which the raccoons were released. The final artwork was a lecture performance with slides. I case you are interested you can watch it via the follow link: http://www.sjoerdvanleeuwen.nl/he-who-scratches-with-his-hands/video/

groeten and thanks for producing my favorite podcast for years already,

Sjoerd

Jan. 31 2017 12:26 PM
Earl West from MN

I keep thinking about the couple who were raising watermelons. They said they got guard dogs, and the raccoons ripped the dog to pieces. I am not sure how they could think the raccoons were still cute and cuddly after seeing this poor dog had been ripped into pieces. Would they have still felt this way if the dog had been their pet, and what makes them think the raccoons wouldn't have done the same to them if they had tried to stave of the little vermin?

Jan. 30 2017 12:33 PM
Nathan from Monterey

The islanders interviewed in this story are no better than President Trump; They place their own selfish desires and political concerns above the consensus view for best wildlife management practices.

Jan. 30 2017 08:27 AM
TK from Australia

Long time listener, first time commenter.

I found the episode to be interesting and informative, I was particularly touched when Simon broke the news to Na. She still holds her lost pet so dearly to her heart and to tell her that not only was her beloved pet not special because it wasn't unique, but that active culling of other racoons is encouraged is quite cruel. Sure, it makes for compelling radio, but at what cost?
Most people can relate to losing a pet which essentially becomes family and to tell them that their pet is a pest, now hunted, I thought was unnecessary. You can hear it in her voice. Just my two cents.

Jan. 30 2017 02:45 AM
Tanvi from New Orleans

I have been listening to Radiolab for a long time and have never written in, but this episode made me want to express why I love this show. Just like my other favorite Radiolab episodes, this one was funny, poignant, and made convincing cases for both science and human emotion in challenging situations in the way that Radiolab is so wonderful at doing. One request, though. Can we please see a picture of Na and Petit Sofi? It would make me so happy!

Jan. 28 2017 10:47 PM
Danielle Tougas from Calgary, Canada

I enjoyed the episode but I have to object a little to the idea that a nation's animal is noble and reflective of the country - in Canada, our unofficial animal is the beaver and we're quite cognizant that it's not a particularly noble, smart or elegant animal. Perhaps it reflects our self-deprecation? Most likely, it's just a reflection of the importance of the fur trade to the development of Canada as a nation.

Jan. 27 2017 09:29 PM
phil from England

Just to put that “you’re going to be waiting a long time" into context, the Tundra swans and Whooper swans probably look identical to most non zoologists yet you’d have to go back around 1.3 million years to find a common ancestor between them.

Assuming both life on Earth in General and humanity in particular are still around by the time Guadeloupe Raccoons are worth reclassifying, I suspect we’ll be too busy colonizing other galaxies to bother.

Jan. 27 2017 06:21 PM
Lisa Kline Simon from Portland, Oregon

It is upsetting that anytime there is a RadioLab episode involving animals, Jad and Robert talk about them as if they are things to be disposed of rather sentient beings with whom we share the earth. I only got to the point in this episode where Jad decided raccoons are "gross" and "immoral" and then advocated shooting or poisoning them. To me, that's pretty gross and immoral. I turned it off and couldn't help but be reminded of the episode where gov't officials were using a goat to attract other goats so they could gun them down from helicopters -- Jad and Robert laughing at their suffering all the while. I wish they would just stop doing episodes involving animals altogether. So depressing.

Jan. 27 2017 03:59 PM
Shawn Newton from Hot Springs, AR

Who did the mix on the Mr. Sandman song in there? Good music.

Jan. 27 2017 03:58 PM
Bridget from Colorado

What happened to the raccoons who were "rescued" by the police and thrown into a dog crate?

Jan. 27 2017 01:41 PM
Dean from Loma Linda, CA

I would be curious to know the ecological impact of these raccoons on the island flora and fauna. Are these animals as significant as other invasive animals like mongoose or rats? Could these animals have been introduced earlier, like grey fox on the California Channel Islands? These foxes are considered distinct and with a shorter evolutionary timeline than traditional biological speciation.

Jan. 27 2017 11:26 AM
Rick from New Mexico

Finally a science episode so I don't have to delete the episode without listening to it like I did with the last one.

Simple note for subject selection, ask this question: Is it science? if the answer is not "yes," then seek another subject, and pass the idea to TAL to do.

Jan. 27 2017 11:16 AM
Will from New haven

Great show always! Especially broadcasts about animals there's always hidden messages for those in the know I love it! Question what's the song at the end?

Thanks

Jan. 27 2017 09:54 AM
Luke Peters

Great show, fix the typo

Jan. 27 2017 09:39 AM
Chris Kavanaugh

Podcast title has a typo.

Jan. 27 2017 08:45 AM
Jeff Sirmons from Tampa FL.

I just finished listening to the Stranger in Paradise episode, and I couldn't help but recall the episode that permanently hooked me to this show. That episode was the one about Tasmanian Devils and the tumors that nearly destroyed the entire species. These tumors were deadly due to the face-eating and incestuous nature of the devils. I couldn't help but think that the conclusion of this episode forgets this lesson. If Guadalupe cared about the raccoons more than their own use as an image for the island, they should probably do the opposite of sheltering them and bring in more North American raccoons to create a healthier, more diverse gene pool.

Jan. 27 2017 07:38 AM

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