|The Raccoon (Procyon lotor), also known as the Northern Raccoon, Common Raccoon, Washer Bear or Coon, is a widespread, medium-sized, omnivorous mammal native to North America. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, they have also been widespread on the European mainland and in the Caucasus region, after having escaped from fur farms. Raccoons usually live together in small, loose groups. Their original habitats are mixed or deciduous forests, but due to their adaptability, they are often found in urban areas where they can be considered pests at times.
Raccoons have 40 teeth, which are adapted to an omnivorous lifestyle. The chewing surface is not as wide as for herbivores, but the teeth are not as sharp and pointed as those of a carnivore.
As city dwellers in the United States and Canada increasingly move into primary or second homes in former rural areas, raccoons are often considered pests because they forage in trash receptacles or eat dog food left on back porches. They are able to open garbage cans with their thumbs (which are not opposable).
Raccoons do not eat cats or dogs. However, they will attack and fight if cornered. If a raccoon appears to be overly aggressive and is attacking pets or people, then there is a good possibility that this raccoon is rabid. In this case the proper authorities should be notified.
Introduced into Germany in the 19th century, raccoons seeking food in wine cellars and storage areas have become a threat to the country's wine industry. Beginning in April 1934 raccoons, which were being commercially farmed in Germany for their then-fashionable fur, were experimentally released into the wild in the Kellerwald range. Population growth greatly accelerated in 1945 when disruption of the infrastructure led to numerous raccoons escaping from farms across Germany. Because they appeared to have minimal impact on forest ecology, raccoons were initially a protected species. This status has changed in recent years, however, as the species' population density in some regions may have reached 100 raccoons per square kilometer. In certain areas, hunters have been offered rewards to kill the animals.
Common Raccoon native range in red, feral range in blue.
In 1934, Hermann Goering, then head of the Reich Forestry Office, gave permission for the release of a pair of raccoons into the German wilderness to enrich the fauna. The raccoons have since been extremely successful due to the lack of natural enemies. Others are believed to have escaped from fur farms during Allied bombing in World War II. The German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported in 2002 that the raccoon had established itself in a small area of north-central France and in a considerable area of central Germany, where it had become a neighborhood pest to some and a beloved pet to others.
While raccoons held in captivity can live up to 20 years, they seldom live longer than 12 years in the wild, with most only living a few years. The species' life expectancy in the wild is only about 1.3 to 3.1 years, and only about half of all males survive their first year. Illnesses, accidents, and the death of the mother are the most common causes of death for young raccoons. For adult raccoons, traffic incidents and hunting account for more than 75% of deaths. In the 1980s in the United States, nearly five million raccoons were shot every year.
Raccoon rabies is as dangerous to humans as any other strain, even though there is only one documented case in which it has led to a fatal case of human rabies. Any animal with suspected rabies should not be approached. If it requires euthanizing, the local health department should be notified to obtain instructions on means of disposal. Saliva, and other bodily fluids may carry the rabies virus. Many communities have animal control officers who can deal with rabid animals.
Rabies is so prevalent in some populations of wild raccoons that several states and the U.S. federal government, as well as authorities in Canada, have developed programs of oral vaccination to try to reduce the spread of this lethal disease.
An older edition of The Joy of Cooking has a recipe for preparing raccoon, along with squirrel, opossum, and other game animals. It is suggested that removing the musk glands and the fat before roasting (a favored cooking method) will help tone down the strong game flavor. Sweet potatoes are complementary with raccoon meat (which is dark) as either a stuffing or side dish.
The limited interest in raccoon consumption is likely attributed to the emotive association people have with the animal; being intelligent and adaptable. Its reputation as a scavenger is also a common factor with people (see Taboo food and drink). Other likely causes of disinterest are revulsion towards the raccoon's disposition to eating garbage, or its notoriety for incubating diseases (such as rabies).
In some states of the United States, it is illegal to keep raccoons as pets (see rabies). Other states allow the practice, but require exotic pet permits. Young orphan raccoons born in the wild may not always be a good choice for a pet - these animals are cared for and potentially released back into the wild through professional wildlife rehabilitation. Raccoons raised in captivity and released do not typically adapt well to life in the wild.
Tamed raccoons acquired from reputable breeders may make suitable pets. However the raccoon is still a wild animal by nature, so that is to be kept in mind before taming. Training raccoons is an intensive and ongoing process. During mating season, many captive raccoons retain destructive and/or aggressive natural behaviors, such as constant biting. These problems are usually resolved ahead of time by spaying and neutering at around four months of age. Raccoons from breeders can sometimes come in different color variations, such as silver, albino, blonde, black, cinnamon, cream, and red to name a few.
Although nocturnal, captive raccoons can be trained to sleep at night and to be active during the day. Captive raccoons can also develop obesity and other disorders due to unnatural diet and lack of exercise. Furthermore, many veterinarians may or may not be able to treat raccoons. It is of dire importance that people who attempt to obtain a raccoon as a pet do the usual homework.
Ursus lotor Linnaeus, 1758
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