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Digging for Secrets From the Raccoon in Your Garbage – The New York Times

Scientists are studying urban animals and the diseases they carry, to understand the potential risks to people, pets and the animals themselves.
A raccoon caught one recent September night in Forest Park, in Queens, for sampling and study. Scientists want to learn more about wildlife and disease transmission in New York.Credit…
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By Emily Anthes
Photographs by Andres Kudacki
Emily Anthes reported this story from Queens, where she spent six hours observing raccoon and opossum swabbing.
Early one morning last month, Laura Dudley Plimpton found herself in Forest Park, in Queens, staring at a pair of captured raccoons. It was not the first time that Ms. Plimpton, an ecologist at Columbia University, had caught two of them in a cage trap designed for one. But typically when that happened, she would find a mother and a small kit inside.
This trap contained two fully grown, rotund adults, two balls of bristly fur that had merged into what one member of the trapping team called a single “big squish.” The raccoons seemed to be unbothered, one resting casually atop the other inside the cage, which had jumbo marshmallows as bait.
“You guys are so silly,” Ms. Plimpton said. Her demeanor was improbably cheery, and her French braid was impressively neat for someone who had arrived at the park before dawn. “I really don’t know how they did that,” she added, turning toward a colleague. “They had to have raced each other to the marshmallow.”
For their trouble, the raccoons had earned themselves a quick veterinary exam, a rabies vaccine and a spot in Ms. Plimpton’s investigation: a study of urban animals, the pathogens they carry and how they might spread across the city.
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