Scientists Look For Ways To Channel World’s Concern For A Raccoon Towards Human Migrants

lightx-18After a Minnesota raccoon captivated the attention, and concern, of much of the internet yesterday, while making a treacherous journey in search of a new home, a team of scientists at Dalhousie University have taken on the seemingly unconnected task of redirecting some of that compassion towards human migrants – such as the 629 persons currently on a rescue boat in the Mediterranean waiting for a port to allow them entry. 

“People seemed to get behind this raccoon’s story because it was an extremely dangerous attempt to find safety, brought on by a set of circumstances it had no control over,” says Dr. Francine Parsons, head of the Dalhousie Centre For Imagining It Was You In That Boat. “And when we ran that same set of parameters through our Compassion Deficit Analyzer, it pointed out a trend in the data which suggests this is the same situation being experienced by many migrants around the world. Except, of course, for the fact those are people.”

And it is that last qualifier that may prove insurmountable. 

“I was all about watching that poor little guy climb the pebble-dash,” says a morning commuter in St. Paul’s, walking past the UBS building that the so-called ‘MPR’ (Minnesota Public Radio) raccoon scaled yesterday, finishing his climb at 2:30 AM this morning to the breathless cheers of millions of online viewers. “I couldn’t sleep for worry that he might fall. I just kept thinking that that could be me up there, but for the grace of god, y’know? It really struck a nerve.”

Asked if he feels that same way about the hundreds of thousands of migrants who annually attempt to cross the waters of the Mediterranean in poorly equipped, over-crowded vessels, or the Arizona desert on foot, the man is quick to say he does not.

“No. What does that have to do with me?” he asks, before resuming his walk to work. 

Back in Halifax, the Dalhousie research team admits they have their work cut out for them.

“The challenge,” Dr. Parsons says, pushing her glasses up on her forehead and rubbing her eyes, “is to try to find a way to convince people that this is not an either-or proposition. You can care for the raccoon AND the millions of displaced persons currently being forced to risk their lives by global apathy towards their situation.”

She pauses, and looks like she is trying to decide whether to give voice to an additional thought. An assistant, sitting in the room with us, looks up from her laptop and encourages Francine to just say it. The doctor nods. 

“Let me put it bluntly: if people can care for a raccoon, it can’t be too much to ask them to care for their fellow humans.”


Medicins Sans Frontieres continues to provide support and provide life-saving services to migrants in the Mediterranean, as well as the Rohingya in Myanmar. This link explains their efforts in more detail, and offers a way to donate.

In the United States, Border Angels is an all volunteer, non profit organisation that advocates for human rights, humane immigration reform, and social justice with a special focus on issues related to issues related to the US-Mexican border.

Categories: News

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