What is a Coati? (Your Guide to the Mexican Tejon “Raccoon”)

Hi, and welcome to our guide to coatimundis, also known as “tejon” in Spanish, also nicknamed “Mexican raccoons”. Yes, these critters are sure cute, but there’s more to them than just their long noses.

Use this table of contents to navigate this article:

Let’s dive in!


What Does A Coatimundi (Tejon) Look Like?

coatimundi2.jpg.scaled10002

Until I got to Mexico (I go down there in the winters from Canada), I had no idea what this odd looking animal was, but then I kept seeing more and more of them while out and about. They were clearly not anyone’s pets (ie. wild), and yet didn’t seem dangerous, and people didn’t seem to mind them.  

Someone told me it was called a “coatimundi”, or “coati”, or “tejon” in Spanish.

I was just going around calling it that “Mexican racoon thing”.  They are also known as cholugo, or moncún, or sometimes “hog-nosed coon”.

mexican-animal-tejon-coati

This is what happens when you go ahead and feed one coati.  You end up having to feed more than one!  This my wife holding the feed bag.

Like most wild animals, I don’t think you’re supposed to feed them like this.


About Coatis

Here’s what I’ve learned about these amazing animals so far.  Coatis are members of the raccoon family.  They can rotate their nose 60 degrees and paws 180 degrees, so they can come down the tree head first.

Watch this video of a coati climbing a palm tree in Iguazu Falls.

My pet cat at home in Canada can climb trees but can’t get down. She needs to take lessons from coatimundi.

As I found out, the coatimundi is related to the raccoon of North America. Here’s a picture of a raccoon in case you’ve never seen one.  They usually can be found rooting around in someone’s garbage can, or disappearing into a sewer grate.

cute racoon

Coatis do have a passing resemblance to raccoons, but a coati’s nose is longer and its colouring is slightly different.

coati eating watermelon

Coatis also remind me these oversized rat-like creatures we have back in Canada called possums…

possum-opossum-fur

Possums are not usually friendly to people, but people are also not very friendly to possums, so maybe that’s part of the reason.

Coatis don’t have this kind of bad reputation, as far as I know.


Where do Coatis live (and what do they eat)?

coati-eating

Coatis do eat similar things such as insects, fruit, birds and roots. They live in the trees and scrub lands, but aren’t too fussy about where they call home, just like the raccoon.

Both of these creatures have sharp teeth and claws and are very agile.  They can take things apart, such as your garbage container, if they are hungry enough.

Here are some more coatis – eating again!  I’m not surprised!

Coatimundi live from Mexico to Peru, and prefer warm weather. 

If you are walking along some path next to the mangrove swamps on the west coast of Mexico near Puerto Vallarta, keep you eyes peeled for the coatis. They are watching you…

You won’t see any raccoons in Mexico. Coatis travel in groups without the males, who only come around to mate. Otherwise the boys are loners. 

Coatimundis are very clever and adapt well to human behaviour, so be careful. They will come right up to you and take the food from your hand, but keep in mind that they are wild and dangerous. I know they are cute.  Some people say they remind them of monkeys, dogs, and even bears. 

coati sits

They have shorter front legs than back, so they walk along with a bear’s gait. 

They also walk on their padded heals like humans do. It is not uncommon for Mexicans to have coatis as pets. Some people in Canada and the U.S. have tried to domesticate raccoons this way also.

So, for about seven years now, every year we’re down in Mexico visiting from Canada, and the coatis are always there to greet us once we start going out and about.  

Oh, I forgot to mention.  We usually go to Bucerias, Mexico, a city of about 15000 people. This map shows where it is…seems like “coati country” to me!

In Bucerias, there are several types of terrain you’ll encounter, including some swampier areas with more than a few crocodiles. 

Curiously, there also happens to be many giant fancy hotels nearby, not far from these boggy areas.  The swamps and bogs look something like this:

santuario-de-cocodrilos

This type of area is the perfect environment for the coatimundi or Mexican raccoon to hang out. This is all next to the seventh largest bay in the world – Bahia de Banderas (Banderas Bay).

Here is Bucerias in the context of Banderas Bay on a map for reference:

Don’t get me wrong, the beach around Bucerias is extremely beautiful, and there are lots of tourists heading for those giant magnificent hotels along the shoreline as well.

As I was saying, the coatimundi inhabit the densely marshy delta near the lush and very expensive hotel complexes I mentioned, in an area which is basically a crossroads between the swamp and urban development. 

coatimundi tejon

These cute, long-tailed coatis, or Mexican tejon, have been conditioned in this area to wait each morning for the tourists to come out of their hotels with food scraps and feed them.

Here we area walking along, encountering many coatis as we go.

As you can see, Bucerias has coatis aplenty.  We’ve been there so much, I decided to write this blog about it.  I figured, there are so many of them around, I may as well learn more about these creatures.  Why not?


Are there Coatis in the USA?

I was wondering if there were any coatis in the south-western USA, since they seem to be rather common in Mexico, so I contacted a few people.

One person I contacted was a guy named Casey from All American Carpet and Pest Control, who are based out of Portales, New Mexico.

I thought for sure that they would have seen some coatis, since it’s only about 5 hours drive El Paso. Casey shares this with me:

“Though technically we are in an area where Coatimundi might live, I haven’t seen one in the wild, nor heard of them being seen here. We are close to the Texas state line and in a relatively flat area, which may be less appealing to them. Since we are at the far eastern edge of New Mexico, I wonder if somewhere farther west would be a more likely habitat. There are more mountains and variations in elevation there.

I would be interested to see them if they are here. We mainly deal with insects and rodents, and aren’t equipped for larger animal relocation, but if I get a call, I might reconsider to have the opportunity to handle a Coatimundi.

In this area, we have vast experience with rattlesnakes, prairie dogs, coyotes, skunks, and jackrabbits.”

The plot thickens with our dear coati friends…

Casey continues…

“Last year, I was working for a different company, as a mobile pest control technician. That company did cover larger animal control issues, and I never heard of any calls about them. I know there were none in my region, as I was the only technician covering Clovis, Portales, Roswell, Dexter, Hagerman, Artesia, Carlsbad, Loving, Hobbs, Jal, Lovington, and Ft. Sumner. 

I also serviced a few natural gas operation sites that were up to 15 miles from where you turned off any mapped road (dirt, not paved). I have run across horned toads, lizards of various types, scorpions, pack rats, kangaroo rats, antelope, deer, foxes, raccoons, roadrunners nests, coyotes playing like puppies in the spring, and even a family of bobcats. 

It is a pretty large area of eastern New Mexico, and though I wasn’t looking for coatimundi specifically, I was paying attention to critters, and I saw no sign of them. Obviously that’s no guarantee there aren’t any, but pretty good evidence they are rare if they are in my corner of the world.”

Why might this be?


Behaviour

Coatis travel in female packs of up to 25 animals. The female packs include the baby coatis until they’re at least 2 years old.

pack of coatis

Once they hit that milestone age, the males will be forced out of the group by the females. They’ll only return when it’s time for breeding.

The coatimundi has certain noises and postures that convey their mood. They uses snorting, grunting or chirping noises as indications of a variety of moods depending on their current activity.

They are also very curious creatures.  Check out this video where a coati approaches a camera to see what it is.

You can’t hear their noises with the music in this video playing, but they make a lot of noises if you pay close attention. 

For instance, they might snort while digging to claim the food found. If they hide their nose between the front paws, it’s a sign of submission while lowering the head and baring their teeth is aggressive. 


As Pets

While many people might try to domesticate raccoons, squirrels, or monkeys, the coati is another animal that has some cute characteristics that make people want to keep them as pets.

coatimundi as a pet

They’re curious, agile, and friendly, especially if you have food. They’re adorable as they snatch your food and run away like little scamps, so their endearing qualities make them a sought-after pet.

If you want to keep a coati as a pet, you’ll have to find one that’s been raised as a pet. Ones that have been in the wild are not tamed, and can be extremely unpredictable.

Those who have been raised in cages, bottle fed by humans, and learned to co-exist with them are easier to keep in the home with other pets like dogs.

Back in Canada, very rarely do people keep raccoons as pets. It does happen once in a blue moon, but they’re not exactly like cats.  Coatis, to my understanding, are the same way.  They belong in the wild.

That said, here’s a pet store owner talking about coatis as pets.  It looks like a lot of work to me!

Even though you probably aren’t going to have one as a pet, you might still be wondering – can I pet a coati?


Can You Pet A Coati?

In some areas like Mexico and even Belize, coatis are not afraid to scamper up to you and demand food. It’s vital that you’re careful because they have very sharp teeth.

Coatimundi-Teeth

While they’re mostly well-behaved, there are times when petting a coatimundi can be quite dangerous. Never put your fingers close to the animal’s mouth as you’re feeding it.

If you have a particularly friendly coati, you can pet it like you would a dog or cat. They love to be scratched on the head and to have their back rubbed.

As you can see from this video, they’re needy when they’re used to getting human attention. For example, if you start petting them, they might not let you stop!

Even though I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to be taking any coatis back to Canada, it did cross my mind…maybe I can adopt one.  I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea, so I researched it more. 


Adopt a Coatimundi?

coati-as-pets

It’s not really a great idea to adopt a coatimundi from the wild. It would be like bringing a wild raccoon or squirrel into your home.

They’re not used to being caged or confined in any way, so they’ll try to get away, which can result in you or the animal being injured.

If you’re intent on keeping a coati in your life, you can adopt a coatimundi from the zoo.

Zooville has coatimundis that you can adopt.

Essentially, you’d be donating money to the care of the coatis in the zoo. It provides them with toys, food, and loving care while they’re at the zoo.

Here’s a cute video featuring a raccoon named Freddy and a coati named Zack.  

Awww!


How To Care For A Coati

Before bringing a coati into your home, you need to be sure it’s allowed in your area.

While many people in Mexico or South America have coatis as pets, they’re not allowed in many areas in North America.

You’ll have to research whether it’s possible to have this cute, little guy in your home as a pet. I decided it wasn’t for me, for a number of reasons, but that’s just me.

coati care

If you, on the other hand, have checked and are allowed to keep a coati in your home, you’ll want to ensure you are able to care for it properly.

You should have the name of an exotic veterinarian in case of any issues. While they don’t have coati shots, dog or cat shots might be warranted.

Coatis are kept in cages or allowed to roam free in the home depending on how trained they are and whether they cause issues with other animals in the home.

If you use a cage for your coati, it’s vital that the cage is at least 6 feet by 6 feet. It’s always a good idea to use a cage for the animal when you’re not home since they can be quite destructive when left on their own.

white nosed coatis in a cage

In some cases, the cage might have to be modified since coatis are smart enough to unlatch their cage.

Coatis are curious animals who need to be constantly stimulated. Provide them with dog toys when they’re little, but they might need children’s toys as they grow and mature.


Diet in Captivity

The nose of the coati allows them to dig in the dirt and under rocks for insects and small mammals.

They will also eat plants, fruits, and berries. In captivity, they can be fed dog food, which has all the vitamins and minerals that they need to remain healthy, but you can also add fresh fruits, vegetables, and beef or eggs for extra protein.

Watch this video of a coati killing and eating a tarantula, if you dare.

Yes, coatimundis do like to eat bugs, but that’s quite a bug!


Enemies

The coati has quite a few enemies in the wild including coyotes, boa constrictors, jaguars, foxes, and ocelots. Surprisingly, large eagles like the harpy eagle and the hawk eagle will hunt them for food.

The coatimundi has sharp teeth much like a dog to protect themselves from predators.

Case in point, here’s a coati facing off with a jaguar.

I was worried for that coati, that’s for sure, but I guess I didn’t have to.  They are smart and can hold their own as well.  Too much trouble after all, the jaguar decided.


4 More Interesting Facts About Coatis

Here are 4 more interesting facts about this cousin of the raccoon that I learned in my travels …

  1. Coatis often hold their tails erect so as to keep troops of coatis together in tall vegetation.
  2. These intelligent “hog-nose” raccoons have a very flexible snout.
  3. Coatis are omnivores and their diet consists mainly of ground litter invertebrates, such as tarantula, and fruit. They also eat small vertebrate prey, such as lizards, rodents, small birds, birds’ eggs, and crocodile eggs.
  4. They can be kept as pets and it is possible to litter train them. Keep in mind that they are “wild” unlike the dog and cats in our houses today.

Here’s another feeding video… 

Up next, time to wrap things up.


Did I Forget Anything?

Now that I am a semi-expert from spending so much time with these cute little Mexican coatis, I wanted to share a few more tales about these wily little guys!

Every morning, my wife and I walked on the street off the beach for about 5 km one way. There was the beach, the hotels, the road, and the scrub swamp, then the coastal highway.

The friendly (and slightly demanding) coatimundi hang out in the scrub swamp waiting for gringos like us, to drop garbage or maybe feed them grapes or cheerios thinking they are a Mexican pet tejon.

coatimundi open mouth

They will take the food out of your hand exposing their long biting teeth, which are similar to dogs’ teeth or so I’ve read.

Tourists have to be very careful because they are wild animals and very unpredictable.

As I said, the local Mexican people ignore them just like we would ignore a raccoon – they are considered pests.

Mexico isn’t the only place you find coatis.  I have read that there are different kinds and they live in South America as well.  Mainly, you’ll find them living in the tropics.

They live in loose knit groups of about 20, females and juveniles.  The males, after two years, are on their own returning only to mate.  They are omnivorous i.e. tarantulas, fruit, small vertebrates.

Dogs and jaguars are their enemies, but coatis can handle themselves using sharp canine teeth and long strong claws. They sleep in trees in a messy nest.  These aggressive animals have a long nose which provides them with a great sense of smell. They live around 7 years in the wild.

Ok, one last video of the coatis eating (their favorite thing to do)…  Keep in mind that they are wild animals and can be dangerous.  The only reason they appear friendly is because people have food.

Thanks for reading!  Do you have any stories about coatis?  Leave us a comment below!

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