Tanuki (racoon dog)

Racoon Dogs (Tanuki) in Fukuhama, Japan


Recently, British newspapers reported that two pet "raccoon dogs" in Nottinghamshire dug their way out of their cage and terrorized neighborhood pets, including a pet goat and pony. Nottinghamshire is a county in the East Midlands of England, where you don't find many racoon dogs, never mind those that are kept as pets.

Racoon dogs, otherwise known as a tanuki, mangut, or neoguri, depending on their country of origin, are neither raccoons nor dogs, but they are related to foxes and they hunt like foxes too. Native to East Asia, they are raised for their fur in China and Japan. Since the 20th Century, racoon dogs have been bred in Russia and Eastern Europe, again primarily for their fur. This fur is banned from the U.S., although many imported so-called faux fur coats and jackets are actually racoon dog fur. The most unfortunate part of this trade is that racoon dogs are inhumanely skinned.

These rather beautiful foxes are the only ones that hibernate in winter, but not alone. They prefer to cuddle with their mates and families as they snooze. After mating, the male caters to the female and when her pups are born, males care for the young.



Tanuki, the Japanese name for these foxes, are replete in Japanese folklore, first as mythical trouble-makers and later as benevolent, happy chaps. Several drawings and cartoons portray the large testicles of male tanuki to convey the sharing of wealth, particularly gold.


Yoshitoshi Rainy Day Tanukiscrotum

Yoshitoshi Rainy Day Tanukiscrotum An 1881 Yoshitoshi woodblock print of a group of tanuki with large scrotums.
(Photo: Wikimedia via Mother Nature Network)


Now their presence is thought to be good luck, even though they wreak havoc on farmland as well as farm animals; they eat pretty much anything, including small pets (and they will attack larger ones too).

For that reason perhaps, British neighbors in Nottinghamshire are not that thrilled about the presence of racoon dogs. Nor are residents of Sweden and Hungary which, along with Britain and the U.S. have outlawed fur farming and racoon dogs in particular. You can, however, see racoon dogs at the Oklahoma City Zoo and the Zoo Atlanta.


resources: BBC News, Mental Floss, Mother Nature Network