Rac­coon scales 25-story tower in St. Paul, be­comes a sen­sa­tion

Un­usual climb ends with an in­jury-free catch and re­lease

Houston Chronicle - - NEWS MAKERS - By Matthew Haag and Christina Caron

At first, it looked so de­feated: Its head buried be­tween its front paws and its body curled up on a ledge 20 feet above a street in down­town St. Paul, Minn.

But this was a rac­coon, after all — part of a de­cep­tive and un­pre­dictable fam­ily of noc­tur­nal mam­mals whose panda-like looks lull hu­mans into for­get­ting they can carry mul­ti­ple dis­eases. Nonethe­less, three main­te­nance work­ers shortly be­fore noon Tues­day thought they could rouse the rac­coon from its stu­por and of­fered it a lad­der to climb down from the ledge.

It was the start of a mes­mer­iz­ing es­cape — cap­ti­vat­ing peo­ple in Min­nesota and then na­tion­wide on Twit­ter.

The as­cent

The rac­coon, clearly not ready to give up and not a fan of lad­ders, jolted from the re­cess of the build­ing, dug its long fin­ger­nails into the tan ex­te­rior and scur­ried over to an­other side. It started to climb and climb and climb.

The St. Paul rac­coon scaled the two-story build­ing with ease. But there was a big­ger chal­lenge ahead: the UBS Plaza, a 25-story office tower and St. Paul’s 15th-tallest build­ing. Within min­utes, the rac­coon had as­cended five sto­ries.

“Well, it’s out of the fry­ing pan, into the fire for the #mprrac­coon,” Tim Nel­son, a reporter at Min­nesota Public Ra­dio News, tweeted with a hash­tag that be­came a trending topic on Twit­ter.

About 10 min­utes later, the rac­coon was pressed against the 12th floor, now a mere dark spot be­tween two win­dows more than 100 feet above the street. Then the rac­coon reached the 15th floor and then the 20th.

While it’s nor­mal for rac­coons to climb 20 to 30 feet, scal­ing a large build­ing is un­usual, said Rus­sell L. Burke, a bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Hof­s­tra Univer­sity.

“That kind of height is ex­tra­or­di­nary,” he added.

Gawk­ers flooded the streets be­low UBS Plaza. Some brought binoc­u­lars. A girl clutched a rac­coon stuffed animal. A mar­quee on Min­nesota Public Ra­dio’s build­ing across the street flashed the break­ing news: “St. Paul’s down­town rac­coon reaches new heights.”

In­side the tower, em­ploy­ees pressed their faces against the win­dows hop­ing to catch a glimpse of it. On the 23rd floor of UBS Plaza, Sheila Donnelly-Coyne, a part­ner at Paige J. Donnelly, a St. Paul law firm, hud­dled with her co-work­ers and started to chron­i­cle the rac­coon’s jour­ney.

It showed up around 3 p.m. and started pac­ing on a thin win­dow ledge out­side Donnelly-Coyne’s office. It took a nap. “He just seemed sweet and cute and very mel­low,” she said in an interview Wed­nes­day.

Break­ing out a win­dow or send­ing down win­dow clean­ers would have been too risky, Donnelly-Coyne said, so of­fi­cials baited live traps with cat food and placed them on the roof.

She stayed in the office un­til 9 p.m., tak­ing breaks from her work to check on it. When she left, she said, the rac­coon was curled up sleep­ing.

The rac­coon awoke around 10:30 p.m. and ap­par­ently had a change of heart. It started to de­scend, down to the 18th floor and then the 17th, be­fore stop­ping on an­other ledge.

Free at last

A pho­tog­ra­pher at Min­nesota Public Ra­dio zoomed in and saw the rac­coon peer­ing over the ledge. Maybe it saw the cheer­ing crowd be­low. Maybe it thought the de­scent was too far. Ei­ther way, around 2 a.m. Wed­nes­day, it be­gan an­other climb.

It sur­passed the 18th floor and then 19th and kept go­ing and go­ing. Around 2:45 a.m., ac­cord­ing to Nel­son, it scaled the top and hopped onto the roof. It also found the cat food in­side the trap.

Wildlife Man­age­ment Ser­vices, the com­pany that set the traps, re­trieved the rac­coon Wed­nes­day morn­ing, said Lau­rie Brick­ley, a spokes­woman for the city’s De­part­ment of Safety and In­spec­tions.

The rac­coon was a fe­male about 2 years old, Brick­ley said. “She was a lit­tle skinny but in good shape.”

By the time the team reached her, she was “in­cred­i­bly tired,” and had eaten all that was in the live trap and had drunk a lot of wa­ter, Brick­ley said.

When asked where the rac­coon had been re­leased, Brick­ley de­clined to an­swer, say­ing only that she had been sent into the wild.

“This rac­coon needs peace and quiet right now,” she said.

Evan Frost pho­tos / Min­nesota Public Ra­dio via As­so­ci­ated Press

A rac­coon scur­ries up the side of the UBS Tower in St. Paul, Minn., on Tues­day be­fore mak­ing it to the top overnight. The rac­coon be­gan its climb about noon and reached the roof about 3 a.m. Wed­nes­day.

The rac­coon was picked up by Wildlife Man­age­ment Ser­vices and re­leased into the wild on Wed­nes­day.

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