How does a Coati Cross the Road?
Look Both Ways and Run Like the Wind

AUTHOR: Jack Ewing

My beat-up old pickup rattled and bumped down the potholed gravel road headed for Dominical when I caught sight of a raccoon-sized animal running into the brush on the righthand side of the road. Then another came from the jungle to the left, dashed across, and another. Not wanting to interrupt the passage of the animals that now were recognizable as a group of female coatis and their young, I stopped and waited for them to continue. A head eased out of the jungle and looked at my pickup. The young coati decided that I wasn’t a threat.

Then, to my astonishment, it looked to the left and right and barreled across. Four more, all juveniles, did the same thing, everyone looking both ways before crossing. After a minute, I continued on my way, glancing to the left at the location of the crossing. Back in the jungle were two more adults waiting. “They aren’t so trusting as the kids,” I thought. “Amazing that they teach the youngsters to look both ways before stepping into the roadway. I know a few human kids who could use a lesson or two in that respect.”

This incident took place about ten years before the completion of highway #34 in the year 2009. In the three kilometers of the new highway that passes through Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge, both suspension bridges and tunnels, designed explicitly as wildlife crossings, were incorporated into the construction of the highway.

Female coatis and their offspring travel in groups. They are very protective of the young and wary of anything that might pose a threat. The males, sometimes called coatimundis, are solitary except at mating time. They are much braver than the groups of females and young and are so arrogant that they sometimes swagger and walk very close to humans. 

After the highway was built a strange thing happened. The groups of females and their young quit crossing the highway. Camera traps placed at the ends of the bridges and the tunnels have captured numerous photos and videos of solitary male coatis using these structures to cross the road safely. But no camera trap has captured a group crossing, nor has any of the Hacienda Barú staff seen a group running across the surface of the highway.

We quit using camera traps on the tunnels in about 2015 because poachers were stealing the ones that weren’t locked down and damaging the ones that were. One Hacienda Barú guide recently witnessed a group of coatis passing through a tunnel. I wonder if they told the kids to look both ways before entering the tunnel. It took them over ten years, but they finally decided it was safe.


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