After internet fame, early morning capture, high-climbing raccoon finally released into wild

Image 1 of 2

The more than 12-hour long saga of a high-climbing raccoon in St. Paul, Minn., that captivated the internet for most of Tuesday afternoon and evening came to a dramatic end around 3:00 a.m. Wednesday morning when the animal finally scaled the last few feet of wall and was ultimately captured in a live trap on the roof of UBS Tower. 

Officials said the raccoon, which was healthy if a bit bedraggled after climbing more than 24 stories, is now running free after being released in a residential neighborhood in the southwest Twin Cities metro city of Shakopee. 

Initial speculation was that the raccoon climbed to a lower part of the building, frequented by pigeons, in search of bird eggs. But workers who tried to lure it down with a wooden ramp likely just scared it, said Phil Jenni, executive director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota.

So it did what raccoons do when they're stressed: it climbed. And climbed. And climbed.

"Raccoons don't think ahead very much, so raccoons don't have very good impulse control," said Suzanne MacDonald, a raccoon behavior expert at York University in Toronto who admitted she could barely sleep she was so worried about the animal. "I don't think the raccoon realized when it started climbing what it was in for."

Christina Valdivia with Wildlife Management Services, which contracts animal control services for the city of St. Paul, said the company had been called to address the situation before it even started climbing the building. Technicians with the private company were able to lure the raccoon into a trap placed on the roof with some wet cat food before taking it back down to ground level in a freight elevator Wednesday morning. 

Wildlife scientists and other experts pointed out early on that the popular narrative taking hold on Twitter and other social media sites was that the animal was stranded and needed rescuing. "I'm not sure that was true," Jenni said in an interview with the Associated Press. "It was behaving like a lot of raccoons do."

The story was initially broken by Minnesota Public Radio News in the Twin Cities, which branded the animal #mprraccoon on Twitter. MPR reporter Tim Nelson, who first noticed the raccoon Monday and followed the saga from the very beginning, gained thousands of online followers as he chronicled the situation into the wee hours of the morning.

"It was arresting," he said after hearing the story's happy ending. "You couldn't take your eyes off of it. It was just ... I can't believe this is happening."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.