Raccoons are the uninvited dinner guests at the restaurant of Las Tortugas Hotel.
Photo courtesy of Meg Warren/Earthwatch Institute
Dinner Guests!
by Meg Warren

At last, I finally met them — a mother raccoon and her four babies. I have seen signs of raccoons on the beach ever since I arrived, but never face-to-face or at the dinner table!

The other morning when I went out on the 5 a.m. nest count, I came across some tracks that were definitely not leatherback tracks. They were much narrower, perhaps 18-20 inches wide. Lene, my partner, said they were the tracks of an olive ridley turtle. The olive ridley, a turtle much smaller than the leatherback, apparently nests frequently on Playa Ventanas, the beach adjoining Playa Grande.

We followed the olive ridley tracks up to the nest. The nest was completely ransacked... a big hole dug up...eggshells broken and tossed about. It looked as if a dog had been at work, but the tracks around the nest were clearly those of a raccoon.

When I went out later that night to patrol the beach I took a night scope with me. The night scope allows you to see more clearly in the dark. Sure enough, when we came across the nesting leatherback, there in the background was a silhouette of a small animal with thin legs and a long bushy tail... too full a tail to be a dog. This time we got the eggs safely relocated to the beach hatchery before the raccoon got to them. The hatchery is protected by a chicken- wire fence and gate.

The raccoons have discovered an easier source of food — the leftovers from the cats' dishes and handouts from curious tourists. The cats are not too happy about this, and hiss at the raccoons. But the raccoons do not seem to mind. They have begun to appear regularly at 8 p.m. for their dinner.