Raccoons and humans: a manual for living in harmony

Raton laveur
Raccoons and humans: a manual for living in harmony

Love it or hate it, the raccoon is part of our urban and rural landscapes. Opportunistic and omnivorous, the mammal has successfully adapted to almost every environment. But it can do damage, and its nighttime raids on our garbage cans are at the very least annoying. So how do our two species live in harmony? Here’s a way: learn more about it!

A North American purebred

Although it’s part of the order of carnivores, the raccoon (Procyon lotor) is an omnivore in the Procyonidae family, which lives essentially in North America but in Central America as well. Here in Canada it’s found as much in fields, wetlands and forests as in our urban lanes. It’s a true all-rounder, capable of catching frogs and fish, or climbing apple trees to pick their fruit. Its food preferences are as diversified as its habitats, because while it will go after chickens and devour turtle eggs, it also eats a wide variety of fruit, vegetables and nuts. In other words, there’s not much it won’t try.

A charmer, and yet...

A raccoon’s life isn’t always easy: in nature it’s hunted, subject to disease and infestations of lice, ticks or fleas, often a victim of malnutrition – and occasionally ends up as roadkill. In cities it sets up shop under our porches or in our huts or attics. Food is everywhere: our trashcans can be the source of real feasts! Charmed by their talents, a lot of people will feed raccoons and thus encourage them to hang around. But be careful: raccoons can carry rabies, a situation observed in the United States and one that’s getting closer to Québec borders. Even with vaccination programs in place, including distribution of tasty biscuits laced with the anti-rabies vaccine in nature parks on Montréal Island and in areas along the U.S. border, more precautions have to be taken. Seventy-five percent of these animals carry the parasite called raccoon roundworm (Bayliscaris procyonis) in their stool. That parasite is pathogenic for humans and can cause brain damage.

Extended lifespan at the Biodôme

This is a mammal that can live to the age of five in nature. Rescued from a rehabilitation center, the two Biodôme raccoons will in all probability live to 15 thanks to the special care of the animal keepers and the veterinarian as well as to a varied, balanced diet and to the enrichment activities it takes part in. Visitors enjoy them because – there’s no denying – humans and raccoons resemble each other: both of them are clever and highly adaptive beings, capable of taking advantage of all the resources their environment has to offer.

Avoid feeding raccoons and don’t put things out that encourage their presence. Everyone has a place of his or her own, but our respective territories still have to be respected...    

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