As the world becomes smaller, people seem to be intent on seeking trinkets and treasures from those places they may never get the chance to see. As such, artifacts and inhabitants of the wild world are making their way closer and closer to home. In an effort to introduce you to one of the more interesting aspects of nest decoration, I would like to present, for your enjoyment:
The South American Coati
Species: Nasua nasua
Welcome to the Jungle
The South American coati, also known as the ring-tailed coati and the hog-nosed raccoon, is a native of (unsurprisingly) the South American continent. Though other types of coatis are found up in to Arizona, the South American coati is present mostly in the tropical regions of Venezuela, Colombia and Uruguay, down in to Northern Argentina, and in Ecuador. They have also been seen in the Andes, up to an elevation of about 2500 meters on the eastern and western slopes. The range of the coati is ever-increasing as they become subject to breeding and exotic pet trade in the United States and abroad. Populations of coatis have become established in parts of Florida, and are an escape risk in any area where they are bred or kept.
Wherever they happen to be located, coatis prefer tree-filled areas, such as woodlands and jungles. Most types of treed habitats seem to be acceptable. Due to the introduction of a new type of environment, coatis now seem to prefer secondary forests and the edges of forests – an ever-increasing frontier as people push further and further in to the jungles. Trees are an important part of a natural coati habitat because they are used so much for travel, feeding, and resting. This is an important consideration for captive animals.
Never look like you're staring
As one might expect a tree-dweller to appear, so appears the coati. The fur on the back and head is generally grey, dark brown, or some shade of rusty brown. The undersides of the animal are white, as are some of the facial markings. Coatis are something like a reverse raccoon, in that they have light markings around their eyes and darker faces. However, much like their coon cousins, they have a very long ringed tail. This tail is not prehensile, and rather is used for coati communication and to act as a balance for aerial exploits. Babies are generally a little lighter than adults, but have much the same coloration. The hair coat is dull and coarse, as it really has no reason to be luxurious. Coatis have a longer head and snout than a typical raccoon, with the muzzle especially being quite long, thin, and mobile. The front limbs are somewhat shorter than the hind limbs, but both come equipped with sharp claws that can be utilized for climbing and foraging. They’re also used for defense and destruction, but that’s in a moment. Interestingly, coatis are double-jointed in their tarsal joints. They can reverse the joints to reposition their feet, allowing them to climb down trees head first.
Adult size from the head to the base of the tail is approximately 41 to 67 cm. The tail is about as long again, adding another 32 to 69 centimeters for a grand total of an animal that is something like 73 to 136 cm long. They stand approximately 30 cm at the shoulder and weight about 3 to 6 kilograms. This puts the animal at roughly the size of a house cat made of anatomically correct taffy. Males are usually larger than the females and have larger teeth and claws.
A Day in the Life
As with all animals, what can be considered a majority of activity is dedicated to staying alive. Coatis are omnivores, and focus mainly on fruit and invertebrate aspect of that dietary classification. This is probably based more on the availability of food types than a preference. Coatis will also rummage through garbage in human settlements, given the chance. They have also been known to steal chickens, making the family resemblance to raccoon relatives that much stronger. Coatis are not generally seen as a nuisance species to crops, though they can cause some damage. In fact, they may be beneficial, in that the larger coatis will actually serve a rodent and insect control purpose. When not afforded the smorgasbord that is a sessile society, coatis spend the vast majority of the day searching for food, most of which is obtained by land rather than in trees. Trees are used mostly for sleeping, mating, and giving birth. Though they can climb down trees (head first, you’ll recall), they generally prefer to take the squirrel route and move between trees at the end of branches.
The social structure of the coati collective is somewhat interesting. Female coatis, their young, and males up to about two years of age live in social groups of between 4 and 30 members. Females are generally unrelated, indicating that young females often disperse and reform family groups. Males will generally remain somewhere around the area of their birth. When males reach about two years of age, and consequently begin to near sexual maturity, they are pushed out of the group by the aggressions of the females. This is only fair, as the young males reach sexual maturity at three years of age, and their mothers and sisters don’t want them anywhere around them after that. The term ‘coatimundi’, which is often mistaken for the name of the species, is actually suspected to be a native Indian term used to describe the activities of the male coati. Literally, it means a solitary coati, which would be a sexually active male.
Males will rejoin the groups of females during the breeding season, if he’s judged to be up to par. Males will mate with all the reproductively available females of the group, so he’s really got to be packing some good coati genes. Mating season depends on the geographical location, and is associated with the season in which fruit is at its highest abundance. This is theorized to be an assurance that there will be maximal survival for young, both from their nutritional standpoint and that of their potentially infanticidal fathers. Usually, this is around January to March, and corresponds with the rainy season of that area. Those females that become pregnant separate themselves from the group and enter the trees, where they gestate for approximately 74 to 77 days. Litters of about 3 to 7 are born altricial, and must be cared for in their nests until they can begin to take care of themselves. Young coati eyes will open about 10 days of age, and they will be able to focus said eyes and begin to walk around day 24. Two days later, most baby coatis can climb. Somewhere around six weeks after birth, the young and their mothers will rejoin a group. Young are not weaned until about four months of age, when they are able to eat solid food effectively. The average lifespan for a wild coati is only about 7 to 9 years, though they can live in captivity for at least 17 years.
One of Your Very Own
The ethics of exotic animal trade is something which is extremely controversial. The current trend in thought seems to be that if it’s exotic, it must be interesting, and if it’s an animal, it must be a pet. Thus, coatis are making their way in to the pet market in the United States and elsewhere. While it may be true that some animals can be domesticated and that exotic pets are very wonderful as a source of education and entertainment, keeping a wild pet is fraught with problems.
Starting at the beginning, you must make sure that the city and state where you live actually allow you to own exotic pets. Care of something like a coati is not a granted right. Ownership, breeding, and trade of such animals may be highly regulated, and it’s definitely worth looking in to before shelling out the money for your new friend. Captive-bred coatis run a cost of approximately $450. They will require some specialized care and considerations, so that price is only going to get larger as you factor in enclosures, entertainment, feed, and veterinary care. Another concern is non-captive bred animals. These are animals that are caught wild and imported. In addition to the diseases and parasites such an animal can be hosting, the transport and care of animals that are caught for import is often abysmal. This is especially true of those that are imported illegally. Something like 10% of all illegal exotic imports will actually make it to their destination alive. The exotic pet trade is second only to illicit drug trade in profits, and the people who are doing one are very often involved in the other. Hunting and trapping of coatis is unregulated, and as humans push further in to their habitats, more and more animals are at risk of becoming victims of this extremely profitable trade. Make sure you only buy animals of any sort from a reputable breeder.
Coatis are naturally curious animals. This has serious implications in their rearing and care. Because they are curious and intelligent, they are likely to figure out and escape from simple enclosures and want to go exploring. This is likely one of the many methods of incidental introduction in to new environments, such as Florida. Coatis that get out may roam neighborhoods and rummage through garbage, destroy property, or end up in fights with other neighborhood pets. When frightened, your coati’s claws that are so well-suited for digging under rotting logs for beetle larvae may cost you a lot in settlement for someone else’s destroyed pet. These same claws, and the canine teeth associated with them, can be turned against owners when the pet becomes scared, agitated, or aggressive. Alternately, they may just destroy things out of curiosity and boredom, so they must be socialized and entertained to avoid such behavioral issues.
Coatis are somewhat territorial, and it is commonly noted that females are more aggressive than males. This is probably due to the solitary nature of males, who do not have to compete for social dominance regularly. However, unneutered males are known to have aggression issues of their own. Instead of being overtly dominant, unneutered males may have mood swings that bring them from cuddly to Cujo in record time. Strangers will not integrate well in to the coati’s idea of what the social hierarchy of the house should be. Females especially may want to gain rank in the hierarchy, which makes confrontation a likely possibility. Coatis can get along with other pets occasionally, but generally do not prefer the company of dogs or cats. They would prefer the company of small rodents, reptiles, and birds, but you probably don’t want to allow that to happen. Socialization with other people and animals may be the best way to keep a coati from becoming aggressive and to keep them from fearing social situations. This is obviously best done from a young age. When trained, coatis can be taken out to public places in a harness, such as those used for dogs, or on a soft collar with leash.
If you’re going to keep a coati, they should be housed in a spacious enclosure with access to climbing perches, room to dig, and room to wander. This allows the animal to enact most of its natural behaviors. Allowing the animal some access to natural dirt and vegetation may help to give it nutritional support in the form of insects. Of course, don’t let the animal roam freely, as it is likely to escape. Ensuring that you have multiple types of handles and locks on a cage would be an excellent idea, because deft paws and curious minds mean you are unlikely to keep coatis caged without some security. Diet for a captive coati is generally recommended to be fruit-based, though monkey chow has been listed as a more complete feed. This is because it contains both fruit and vegetable matter. It is important to note that with most exotic pet foods, there is no real regulation or formulation. If you are planning on owning any exotic animal, research is key. Make sure to buy feed only from reputable sources, and supplement with foods based on research of what the animals are eating in the wild. Sweet treats, such as candy, honey, and some cookies may be given on a non-regular basis and are apparently highly appreciated by the animals.
Veterinary care for coatis will have to be done by specialized exotics vets. Though vets come out of school with the theoretical knowledge to work on any patient, the reality is that you are bringing some sort of weird cat monkey raccoon thing to a doctor who normally sees Labrador mixes and domestic short hairs. You owe it to your pet to get it the most comprehensive veterinary care it can receive. If you don’t have access to that care, then don’t get the pet. Sterilization surgeries are recommended for males, and probably also for females to avoid aggression during the breeding season. Vaccinations protocols are generally recommended to follow the same routine as dogs and cats, specifically focusing on rabies, feline panleukopenia and canine distemper shots. All of these are diseases that can affect North American raccoons, and therefore the risk to another member of their family is probably also high. All of these vaccines should be given in an inactivated form, rather than a modified live vaccine. Raccoons are one of the main wildlife vectors of rabies in the U.S., and there is every indication that they can become infected with FPV. Introduction of a live vaccine strain into other Procyonids could be a huge public health issue.
Sometimes being a good friend means being harsh.
In all, it is essential to remember that a coati is not a domestic animal, even if it has been captive-bred. They are still wild animals, with all the behaviors and tendencies that they would be likely to show in the wild. They are still poorly acclimated to the life of a household pet, no matter how cuddly or cute they appear. Hopefully, research will continue on these animals and they will continue to enjoy lives in the wild. At current times, they are not endangered, but unrestricted hunting and habitat destruction may chase them in to the realm of those species that are kept alive only by captive breeding. If you are going to help maintain the captive coati population, please do so with utmost care and responsibility. Your cat monkey raccoon thing will thank you.