By Doug Moore
Leaving the Canyon one afternoon, Laurie and I surprised a large animal in the road as we were driving down just below Proctor. It wheeled to face the car, bristling as we came at it head on. I recall a slender body on short, bowed legs and a stupendously long erect tail. My immediate impression was, “There’s a monkey in Madera Canyon?!?” As we slowed to a stop, the critter turned to reveal a long pig-like snout; faint rings of light and dark fur banded the tail. We realized it was a solitary Coati, arguably one of the most interesting mammals in the Santa Rita Mountains.
White-nosed Coatis Nasua narica are brown-furred relatives of raccoons and ringtails. Possessing a rather bizarre combination of physical features, like the aardvark, it has been suggested that they were “designed by committee!” These medium-sized mammals sport a dark facial mask with light spots above and below the eyes. They have short legs with elongated front claws for digging and walk “flat-footed” like bears and humans. Unlike its relatives, a coatis’ long tail is indistinctly banded and often held upright, like a signal flag. Short, rounded ears are placed close to the skull. Their long snout is mobile and tipped with a blunt pad – “electrical-outlet shaped” nose prints in soft soil can reveal where coatis have been foraging.
These animals often live in mobile groups consisting of adult females, yearlings, and babies. Adult males are usually solitary most of the year. Coatis primarily inhabit the oak and pine-oak woodlands of the lower canyons of the Sky Islands in southeast Arizona and are often seen near streams or a water source. They are adept tree climbers. Not desert animals, they do move through desert scrub or desert grassland when moving from one place to another.
Coatis are truly omnivorous and eat whatever is available. They regularly feed on invertebrates, lizards, snakes, rodents, and carrion, as well as the fruits and nuts of trees, shrubs, prickly pear, and yucca. Snuffling through leaf litter, digging in the dirt, and turning rocks and logs, a band of Coatis can leave ample evidence of their passing!
These animals are believed to be fairly recent immigrants to the region; their range extension from the mountains of northern Mexico facilitated by the ready availability of carrion beef after the catastrophic drought of the early 1890s. The first recorded Arizona specimen was taken from the Huachuca Mountains in 1892.
Photo by Doug Moore