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Earth Notes: Coatis Moving North

A furry army with a masked face and a very long very fuzzy tail straight up in the air
Kinley Ragan
White-nosed coati

White-nosed coatis are making tracks northward from their usual home on the US-Mexico border. They’ve been seen in the Verde Valley, along the Mogollon Rim, and occasionally in the Flagstaff area including Walnut Canyon and the Rio de Flag.

Coatis are medium-sized mammals, relatives of raccoons and ring-tailed cats, with masked faces, long noses, and long striped tails.

Communal animals, they travel in bands among oak-studded canyons of the sky-island mountain ranges of the borderlands. Also known as coatimundis or chulos, these omnivores forage in the daytime for favored foods like insects, lizards, and fruit.

But the 250-mile northward range expansion over the past several decades brings them into an entirely different environment of ponderosa forest with winter snow.

Kinley Ragan, with the Phoenix Zoo, recently documented sightings from historical records and collections, personal communications, camera traps, and iNaturalist reports.

She says they’re not yet sure what’s driving the animals’ movements. It could be simple opportunism. Bachelor males regularly disperse to establish new territories, following rich riparian canyons up onto the Colorado Plateau. And there may be fewer predators overall to lessen their numbers.

Coatis may also be tracking climate change. As with other wildlife, they’re finding food, water and agreeable habitat farther north.

If the trend continues, coatis are expected to keep moving up to Grand Canyon and along the Colorado River.

This Earth Note was written by Rose Houk and produced by KNAU and the Sustainable Communities Program at Northern Arizona University with funding from the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies.

Rose Houk is a Flagstaff-based writer and editor, specializing in natural history and environmental topics.  Rose was a founding contributor of KNAU's Earth Notes and has written nearly 200 scripts for the series. She is also the author of many publications about national park and monuments, along with audio productions. 

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