Trapping Mapaches

The word “mapache” is of Náhuatl origin, from “mapactli,” meaning “he who has hands,” an apt moniker given the mapache’s advanced manual dexterity. The professional mapache clan that overran the Point in the last couple of years had even learned how to work the child-proof latches on our kitchen cabinets.

The scientific literature describes them as “opportunistic omnivores,” which really means they will eat just about anything they can get their talented little mitts on. Well, there are exceptions: they disdain tomatoes and citrus fruit, but aside from these two exceptions to the rule, just about everything else is fair game: chicken, meat, fish, eggs, crackers, chips, avocados, melons, apples, chocolates, bread, flour, sugar… and even the waste bacon grease you keep in the tin can under the kitchen sink. This really makes a mess when it hits the floor! Eggs and flour are not fun to clean up either, or the kitchen garbage, tipped over and spread out over several square yards.

If they are really hungry and for some reason can’t work the latch of a cabinet, they will tear the cabinet door to shreds to get what they want.

In short, the mapache, (Procyon lotor mexicanus), a subspecies of the common raccoon, is a real pest if you happen to have an unlockable house, like so many on the Point. And if your house locks, but you leave a window open, you’re just as vulnerable.

So we decided to wage war.

A year ago we brought down a Havahart™ catch-em-alive trap — a large one — at great bother and expense. We faithfully baited it every night with bananas, fish, sausage, and caught… two cats, or rather, the same cat twice. Most mornings we found the bait gone and the trap un-tripped. Meanwhile, just to rub things in, the mapaches raided the house nightly. Our vacation ended without a single mapache inside the trap.

On our next visit, we doggedly set the trap each night with the same humiliating nightly failures. Then we tried a new bait concept, just five nights before we had to leave. We changed the bait to cookies known as Marias, the common kind our housekeepers make into various cakes and pies. And we fastened the cookies to the trap’s treadle with food bag clips, or with clothespins.

Wham! Bang! We bagged a mapache each of the next five nights. Big ones, a baby, medium ones. After we left, a neighbor used the trap with our new bait system at Estrella and trapped two more. They were all let go several miles away.

Now when a mapache springs the trap, you know it: the racket wakes you up, usually around 2 AM. He rattles the trap, he growls, he barks, he sends out a series of piteous chirps, like some kind of bird, and he tries to escape, sometimes abrading the skin off his wrists and his forehead. In their rage, the mapaches destroy the bait clips, (which are stout enough to resist easy bending by human fingers), turning them into lengths of denuded wire.

Ismael took our trap to a sheet metal worker in Ixtapa, who made four copies for about $350 pesos each, and three or four more were caught, one of which escaped by demolishing the trap.

On our next trip down, we brought along some orange day-glo spray paint so we could mark the trapped mapaches, to see whether they returned and were re-trapped; we set the traps nightly for three weeks and caught… none. Our kitchen was raided only twice. Our conclusion: the mapache clan that had claimed the Point as its territory had been effectively wiped out. We hope it will be a while before a new clan moves in, but if and when they do, we will be ready for them!


Tuning up the home-made trap

A year after the above was written, we returned to the Point to find that another gang of mapaches had taken over, so we swung into action. First, we tuned up one of the locally-made traps. Then we baited it plus our original traps with Maria cookies, and we scored! It almost got boring, dealing with the full traps each morning, spraying the mapaches with day-glo paint, driving to the dump and releasing them. The day-glo paint job was to see if any returned to the Point (none did).One morning, we found a different visitor, a lahuache, or opossum. These guys climb the trees and eat the whistling duck eggs. They also come into our kitchen and wreak havoc.

 Not a happy camper!

Not a happy camper!

 This guy shot out of the trap like a rocket afire!

This guy shot out of the trap like a rocket afire!