Raccoon dog evades palace guards


Staff Writer

Imperial Palace guards continued efforts Friday to shoo away a “tanuki” raccoon dog that has been hiding in a gap in a stone wall at the palace moat.

The 30-cm-long raccoon dog was spotted near the moat by a passerby Thursday morning. When a police officer went to the site, the animal escaped to the stone wall.

The Environment Ministry, which oversees the environment around the palace, tried and failed Thursday to catch the wayward critter. Tanuki in folklore are fond of making mischief.

The gap is big enough to hold the raccoon dog comfortably, and it appears to be in good health. The animal apparently inhabits the palace compound.

The ministry plans to leave a wooden board it has placed in hopes the raccoon dog will use it to escape. Mikihiro Yoshino, general affairs chief of the ministry division supervising the Imperial Palace moats, said they won’t try again to catch the animal unless it is injured.

“The raccoon dog is a wild animal. So we will just wait for it to come out from the gap in the wall and return to where it came from,” Yoshino said.

Naturalist Hiroshi Sasaki said at least five or six raccoon dogs inhabit the grounds of the Imperial Palace, and at least 1,000 reside in Tokyo’s 23 wards.

“They are also in the Roppongi, Shibuya and Shinjuku areas,” he said. “I have seen them around the statue of Hachiko (at Shibuya Station) and on a street along Shinjuku Alta.”

According to Sasaki, raccoon dogs mainly inhabit areas with rich plant life such as at the Imperial Palace, but some live in residential and factory districts. He hasn’t heard of them causing any trouble in Tokyo, apart from eating plants in flower pots.

The species has inhabited Tokyo since around the Edo Period (1603-1867), and their population in Tokyo has remained level or has slightly increased in recent years, he said.

Sasaki advises people to refrain from feeding them because they easily grow attached to humans.

“If you give them food, they soon start to show up (at the same spot) every day,” he said. “This is the season raccoon dogs come out with babies. Keeping a certain distance is the best thing for us and the animals.”