One lucky little tanuki, or Japanese raccoon dog, has gone from pest to pet. While other, wilder, tanukis struggled through a recent snowstorm, Twitter user chibi_tori’s Tanu lazed indoors in front of his own personal heater.
— ことり (@chibi_tori) January 13, 2016
Although tanukis are common in Japan and often even seen as pests, the animals are relatively unknown outside the country. The word tanuki has even been mis-translated as badger and raccoon, due to superficial similarities between these animals.
Tanukis are also referred to as raccoon dogs, although they are neither raccoon or dog. While they are related to dogs, in a distant sort of way, the connection between dogs and tanukis is no closer than the connection between dogs and foxes.
In fact, tanukis have a few things in common with foxes. Both feature heavily in Japanese folklore, with tanukis and kitsunes both figuring into numerous myths, and tanukis even sound a little like foxes. Rather than barking like dogs, tanukis make more of a high pitched growling or whining sound.
While tanukis aren’t endangered in the least, they are wild animals that aren’t often kept as pets. So when Japanese Twitter users discovered Tanu on chibi_tori’s Twitter feed during a recent snowstorm, the lucky little Tanuki became something of an overnight celebrity.
Most of chibi_tori’s earlier pictures of Tanu, depicting the raccoon dog walking on a leash, eating from a bowl, and doing other dog-like things, have received fewer than 100 retweets and favorites.
(@chibi_tori) December 23, 2015
During the recent storm, according to RocketNews24, many of chibi_tori’s newer pictures of Tanu have received more than 10,000 retweets.
According to RocketNews24, chibi_tori found Tanu last summer. Tanu had been abandoned by its mother, so chibi_tori rescued the baby tanuki and raised it as a pet. Although it is an uncommon situation, Tanu seems to have adapted to a new life as a pet, rather than a pest, very quickly.
Although raccoon dogs belong to a branch of the canid family tree that isn’t represented at all outside Asia, they have found their way into pop culture in a few places that westerners may be familiar with.
One of the most prominent tanuki appearances served to confuse countless children in the 1990s, when Super Mario 3 introduced the “tanooki suit.” This power up caused Mario to dress up in a raccoon-like suit, with only his face showing, and granted him the power of flight. It also allowed the player to turn into a statue, as a nod to the mythological ability of tanukis to shapeshift.
Adding to the confusion was the fact that Super Mario 3 also included another power up, in the form of a leaf, that provided Mario with a raccoon ear and tails, granting him the power of flight but not the ability to turn into a statue.
Another popular Nintendo series, Animal Crossing, has also featured a tanuki in the form of the Tom Nook character. Although the character is referred to as a raccoon in English translations, his name is actually derived from the word tanuki.
Fans of Studio Ghibli may also remember the film Pom Poko, which featured a family of tanukis. In the English release, they were simply called raccoons, rather than tanukis or raccoon dogs.
In the wild, raccoon dog often compete with feral cats and civets as agricultural, rural and suburban pests in Japan, but Tanu is one lucky tanuki that has found a new life as a pet, and even a small measure of Internet celebrity to go along with his comfy heater and gourmet meals.
— ことり (@chibi_tori) January 22, 2016
Do you think it’s okay to raise wild animals like tanukis as pets?
[Photo by @chibi_tori]