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Fluffy 'burrowing raccoon dogs' in northern Japan an online hit

In this capture photo from the Twitter video, raccoon dogs peek out from a pile of fallen leaves. (Photo courtesy of Obihiro Zoo)

OBIHIRO, Hokkaido -- A video of fluffy raccoon dogs poking their heads out from piles of fallen leaves has gained popularity online, earning them the moniker "burrowing raccoon dogs."

    The video posted on the official Twitter page of Obihiro Zoo in this northern Japan city on Nov. 13, 2019 has garnered some 1.9 million views and more than 120,000 likes.

    Last fall, 28-year-old zookeeper Taishi Nakayama, who is in charge of the raccoon dogs, placed food in piles of fallen leaves he had collected to encourage the animals to explore, as they do in nature. The raccoon dogs were already popular for their stocky appearance, which was described as "cute and fluffy," but the video of them playing in fallen leaves proved to be a hit.

    A male raccoon dog at the zoo died in March last year, leaving only one female named An for a while, but in May of the same year, five baby raccoons that were about 10 days old were added to the zoo after being rescued in the town of Memuro in Hokkaido.

    An Ezo raccoon dog approaches zookeeper Taishi Nakayama, as if to pamper him, at Obihiro Zoo in Obihiro, Hokkaido, on Dec. 17, 2020. (Mainichi/Hitoshi Suzuki)

    One of the females was subsequently moved to Asahiyama Zoo in the city of Asahikawa in Hokkaido, while the remaining three males and one female continue to grow healthily in Obihiro.

    A video taken in the fall of 2020 showing the baby racoon dogs moving around under fallen leaves has received tens of thousands of views and remains popular.

    Nakayama, from Sapporo, Hokkaido, was hired as an employee of Obihiro City after graduating from university and started working at the zoo in July 2018. He has loved animals since he was a child, and working as a zookeeper was his dream job. He is particularly fond of raccoon dogs.

    "Monogamy is rare among wild animals, but raccoon dogs also work together to raise their offspring. I'm addicted to their way of life and their leisurely movements," he says with a laugh.

    Obihiro Zoo disseminates information through its official Twitter account and other social networking services, and the thoughts of the zookeepers are posted on the zoo's blog. Nakayama said, "It's difficult to capture their natural movements, but there are moments that I can do so because I am a zookeeper, and the supportive comments and 'likes' are very encouraging. I want to keep sending out the latest information so that my followers don't get bored."

    The videos of the baby raccoon dogs also serve as a record of their growth, and fans who have been watching them through the posts sometimes visit the zoo to see how they have grown. This is the moment when Nakayama can really feel the connection that was created through the videos.

    (Japanese original by Hitoshi Suzuki, Obihiro Local Bureau)

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