RaccoonRaccoon Living in Harmony with Your Wild Neighbors
HAT do you get when you combine intelligence, manual dexterity, and a nocturnal lifestyle? Well, Raccoon Facts— Win the case of the raccoon, you have an animal well-suited to living near people. GEE WHIZ Raccoons are one of the most charismatic species of animals found in North America. Given their The word “raccoon” superb ability to adapt to, and even exploit, changing is derived from arakun, an environmental conditions, it’s not too surprising Algonquin word meaning that raccoons are now common residents in cities, “he scratches with his hands.” towns, and suburbs. Raccoons’ varied vocal repertoire Technically, raccoons are carnivores. Their diet, includes purrs, whimpers, snarls, however, is more accurately described as omnivorous. growls, hisses, screams, and whinnies. They readily consume both animal and plant matter, Raccoons walk flat-footed, like and their diet varies with locality, season, and availability. elephants, bears, and humans. In addition to eating wild foods, raccoons aren’t averse to raiding gardens, garbage cans, bird feeders, Raccoons can descend a tree headfirst—by fish ponds—even kitchen cabinets. Raccoons have been rotating the hind feet 180 degrees. known to use door knobs, so cabinet doors are hardly A raccoon hand has ten times as many nerve endings a challenge. And a pet door is an open invitation. as a human hand. Chimneys, porches, and attics are all attractive Raccoons are found throughout most of North denning sites from the raccoon perspective. Add readily and Central America (see map). accessible trash cans, or pet food and water bowls, and you’ve got the raccoon Vital Statistics equivalent of a Hilton. Description: Highly variable, Is it any wonder that conflicts with an easily recognizable black arise between raccoons and their facial mask and ringed tail. human neighbors? Luckily for both, Habitat: a little patience and understanding Varied, including seashores, prairies, farmland, can go a long way toward resolving wooded areas, and suburban any problems. and urban areas. Humane methods of conflict Diet: Omnivorous prevention and resolution have proven to be less costly and less Adult Length: 2 to 4 ft. (600 stressful than removal of a resident to 1,200 mm) from nose to tail tip. animal for both wildlife and Adult Weight: 5 to 40 lbs. homeowners. While removal may (2 to 18 kg) seem like a solution, it usually only Activity: Generally, but not creates an enticing vacancy for strictly, nocturnal. another animal in search of a Birthing Season: From March ready-made home. to May; however, in southern People can live in harmony U.S., may occur year-round. with wildlife—you just have Age When Independent: to know your wild neighbors! Between 6 and 12 months. Raccoon
An understanding of the yearly activities of raccoons SUMMER: Attics often become too hot for comfort, will help with damage identification and conflict so raccoons naturally begin to seek shelter under decks prevention planning. and patios, or in wooded areas.
SPRING: Raccoon cubs are born from early spring through FALL: Raccoons begin to seek shelter and extra food. Now early summer, so homeowners should be very careful when is the time to inspect your home and make any repairs, trying to exclude raccoons from buildings at these times. checking first to make sure that animals have not moved Cubs stay at the den site for about two months, and during inside. The harassment techniques described in this fact this time the mother will leave each day to find food. sheet often work especially well during this time of year. If the mother is locked out with the cubs inside, she will do considerable damage trying to reach them. If she is WINTER: Severe weather may cause raccoons to stay in trapped and removed at this time, the cubs will starve to their dens for a week or longer. Raccoons don’t hibernate, death. This is the time for homeowners to observe where but they do conserve energy by limiting activity. Exclusion the mother is entering the building and begin making efforts may cause animals to be trapped inside. Homes may plans for repairs once the young have left to accompany be damaged as animals try to escape. Animals who cannot her on nightly excursions. escape will die of starvation.
and just before sunrise. Tree squirrels will be active by day and quiet at night, while flying squirrels are nocturnal. Squirrels are considerably smaller than raccoons and their movements tend to be quick and light—they scurry. Raccoons sound more like Sumo wrestlers practicing. If young cubs are present, you may hear chittering or purring sounds, especially when the mother returns EFORE you begin taking steps close, where you can sit quietly and to the den. These noises will become to resolve a raccoon problem, watch for the animal to leave. louder as the young animals grow Byou’ll need to do a little If you’re not able to observe the and develop. detective work to make sure that the animal coming or going, tracks are Raccoon signs can be confused animal you’re dealing with is really one of the best ways to identify raccoon at times with opossums and skunks. a raccoon. Raccoons are primarily presence. Flour, cornstarch, and other Skunks are burrowers rather than nocturnal, so they usually begin their nontoxic powders can be used to check climbers, so they rarely den in attics day as the sun is setting. Using the for footprints on hard surfaces, such as and chimneys—and that signature techniques described in this fact sidewalks and roofing shingles. scent is a real tip-off. Opossums sheet, identify the likely entrance Raccoons can be heard moving are generally slower and more or entrances. Find a place, not too around in attics and chimneys at dusk deliberate than raccoons. Building Inspection and Damage Prevention AREFUL attention to with any fecal material found. Inside prevention of wildlife conflicts attics, check for insulation compacted Cis, of course, the simplest, into four-inch wide trails or gathered most economical, and humane course into a pile two to three feet in diameter. of action. A periodic inspection of Household Repairs buildings will reveal potential entry ® Replace worn, curled, cracked, sites. In the case of buildings with two or missing shingles. or more stories, binoculars can help immeasurably. ® Cover chimneys with approved Raccoons are good climbers, and chimney caps, available at hardware they may gain access to roofs using stores and from chimney maintenance overhanging branches, television professionals. towers, and downspouts. The entrance ® Inspect and repair any attic openings hole used by adult raccoons can be with one-half inch, heavy-duty, rust- quite small. Pay particular attention proof hardware cloth. Chicken wire isn’t to eaves, deteriorating boards, warped strong enough for exclusion purposes. Homeowners should make siding, loose shingles, and areas arrangements to have professionals ® where the roof and house join. Trim overhanging branches complete these repairs if they are Toilet areas (a.k.a. latrines) may and remove unused TV towers. uncomfortable with heights or if be seen on roofs or in attics. It is ® Remove leaves from roofs and conditions on the roof are hazardous. important to avoid unprotected contact gutters to prevent wood rot. Problem Solving newspaper or window screening, over commercially available repellents the entrance to help you determine that can be used to deter raccoons, if the animal has left. Once you are but the effect is temporary. Branches absolutely certain that all the animals lower than three feet from the ground are gone, repairs and raccoon-proofing may need to be trimmed. Fruit trees operations can begin. Remember that and bird feeder poles can be protected animals locked inside can cause a great with conical metal guards that keep deal of damage trying to get out. Those the animals from climbing. who are unsuccessful will suffer a cruel Raccoons in Chimneys death from starvation and thirst. First, find out if the animal is denning Raccoons under Decks or trapped. Never smoke any animal Use harassment techniques until out of a chimney. In most chimneys, the animal leaves; then, secure the an adult raccoon can climb in or out OUR first option is to wait perimeter of the deck or patio with at will, but young animals, squirrels, things out—many problems galvanized steel screen in an “L” shape opossums, and some birds may not Yresolve themselves within a few to prevent digging under the barrier. be able to leave on their own. days or weeks. A second option Raiding Garbage Assuming the animal can leave, is the use of harassment methods harassment techniques can be used Raccoons will return to a reliable source to encourage animals to leave. Both to encourage the raccoon to move of garbage, so discourage this behavior of these approaches require some along. After the animal has left, by placing cans at the curb on the day patience, but results are long-term, prevent further problems by installing of pick-up rather than the night before, whereas “quick fix” approaches an approved chimney cap. and place cans inside a shed or garage inevitably require repetition. Get help from a professional in between pick-ups. Use containers ® Place a battery-operated radio if the animal fails to leave or is with tight-fitting lids. in the den area, tuned to a talk or loose inside the house. Call your rock station, and turn up the volume. Gardens and Feeders local humane society or wildlife ® Leave attic lights on. Raccoons are attracted to fruits, rehabilitation center for advice. Tape a weak barrier, such as corn, birdseed, and suet. There are Raccoon
Injured or Consequences Orphaned Animals of Feeding
ILDLIFE rehabilitation HE idea of offering food to raccoons can be tempting. centers provide care for But feeding raccoons can quickly get out of control. Winjured and orphaned TWhile one or two animals can be cute, a half dozen wildlife until the animals can be or more can begin to feel like an invasion. And if food released back to the wild. In most is available, even food left in pet bowls, more creatures states, wildlife rehabilitation can will certainly arrive. be practiced only by someone Remember—you may be willing to put up with with state and/or federal licenses. overturned garbage cans and barking dogs, but your Never try to capture neighbors might not be as tolerant. Large aggregations or handle an injured, ill, or of raccoons can pose serious health risks. orphaned raccoon on your own. Overcrowding increases the risk of disease transmission Raccoons of any age are capable between these normally dispersed animals. As they become of giving nasty bites or scratches. accustomed to the sights and sounds of humans, raccoons Adult raccoons are formidable will begin to lose their natural fear—a risky proposition for animals, even when weakened any wild animal. Before long, what began as a kind-hearted by disease or injury. A wildlife gesture ends up endangering the very creatures you rehabilitator or humane society had intended to help. can advise you on the best course of action if you find an animal in distress. Always keep your own safety in mind. Human Health Concerns Orphaned raccoons are particularly endearing, and Raccoons are susceptible to a number of diseases, including canine the concept of raising a cub on your own, either with the distemper, parvo, pneumonia, tuberculosis, encephalitis, listeriosis, idea of turning him loose or keeping him as a pet, can seem trichinosis, coccidiosis, and rabies. The following diseases pose the appealing. Raccoons make terrible pets, though. They are most serious health risk for humans and their pets. Rabies wild animals capable of biting, scratching, and destroying Raccoons are classified as a rabies vector species, along with foxes, skunks, household items and property. DO NOT attempt to and bats. In spite of all the concern and fear surrounding this disease, raise an orphaned raccoon. advances in public education, vaccination of pets, and post-exposure treatment have greatly reduced the risk to humans from this disease. Raccoon cubs, like all other infants, have unique There has never been a documented human death resulting from the nutritional requirements. Infant formulas available at pet raccoon strain of rabies. stores may claim to be appropriate for all small mammals, but Roundworm this is not true. Problems that result from an inappropriate Baylisascaris procyonis in raccoons is well-documented, and the parasite is a public health concern. The parasite is transmitted through the ingestion diet, such as metabolic bone disease (also known as rickets), of eggs passed in feces, so the key to dealing with this problem is public can debilitate an animal for life. awareness. Avoidance of raccoon latrines is imperative. Children should Unless behavioral and developmental requirements are be prevented from playing in areas where raccoons have defecated. In addition, proper hygiene is crucial wherever raccoons have been kept, addressed, a young raccoon may not be capable of surviving housed, or transported. life in the wild. In addition, municipal ordinances often Leptospirosis prohibit keeping a wild animal as a pet. Zoos and wildlife Raccoons are capable of carrying and transmitting this disease, but the centers are rarely an option for unwanted, hand-raised incidence is so low as to be of concern only in people who routinely come into close contact with these animals, such as wildlife rehabilitators or raccoons. Only licensed wildlife rehabilitators can provide animal control officers. appropriate care for wild animals. Distemper Ask your local humane society to recommend This disease is similar to rabies and can also affect some pets. However, it does not pose a threat to humans. Contact your veterinarian to discuss a wildlife rehabilitator in your area. any concerns, and make sure that your pets are vaccinated annually against this and other diseases. Keeping your pets indoors and/or not allowing them to roam freely will also help avoid this disease. The HSUS provides fact sheets on a variety of topics. For additional information contact:
Information on humane prevention of raccoon conflicts was prepared by Kieran Lindsey, Natural Assets Consulting, Cedar Crest, New Mexico, and reviewed by Laura Simon, The Fund for Animals, New York, New York.
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