This week, I’m reporting from the island of Cozumel in Mexico, after a long and enforced absence thanks to the COVID pandemic. The island has grown visibly lusher over the past three years, despite a glancing blow from a hurricane that eroded much of the beach area on the island’s southwest shore. As I mentioned a few years back, Cozumel and the Yucatan in general are terrific places for birding, and in the next couple of weeks we’ll get to know some of the avian residents. But this week, I’ve made some new friends called coatis and I decided to learn more about them.

Coatis, also known as coatimundis, are widespread from the American southwest down through South America. They are in the same family as raccoons, which they slightly resemble with their masked faces and ringed tails. They have very long snouts that they use to root through ground litter and break apart fruit. My first encounter with them about 15 years ago was on the Mexican mainland, where I was accosted by a large family of them while I was carrying two large cups of coffee. I seriously thought they were lemurs at first. The coatis were completely unintimidated by me, and I can’t say I felt the same: The whole band could have probably taken me if they wanted to, especially as I had both hands full. But once they realized I had nothing edible to offer them, they wandered off to find another human sucker willing to give them a handout.

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