Raccoons share a common ancestry with bears, and they originally lived in forests close to waterways. Like their cousins, raccoons are true omnivores who eat a wide variety of foods, including nuts, seeds, fruits, eggs, insects, frogs, and crayfish. They will eat whatever is available, using their dexterous paws to pluck morsels from small hiding places.
Raccoons possess acute senses of sight and hearing and a highly developed sense of touch. A raccoon’s forefeet are extremely agile and resemble human hands with their five slender fingers. Highly independent and somewhat solitary creatures, raccoons are nocturnal. They hunt at night camouflaged by their distinctive coats and rest by day in the hollows of high trees.
Though humans have occupied the vast majority of their traditional habitat, raccoons are opportunistic and curious animals and have learned to coexist with people. For these reasons, close encounters between raccoons and humans are extremely common in urban and suburban areas.
These clever, gregarious animals with the characteristic black mask surrounding their eyes have been known to pry the lids off sealed garbage cans, raid campsites and coolers, and even turn on the tap for a drink of water. While some people take great delight in watching raccoons’ nightly antics, others consider the animals’ high jinks a nuisance. Thankfully, there are plenty of humane, common-sense solutions to perceived conflicts with these wild animals.
Did You Know?
Raccoons are widely known for their unusual habit of “washing” their food or hands in water. In fact, the scientific name for the raccoon is Procyon lotor, the Latin word “lotor” meaning “washer.” Many theories have been proposed to explain why raccoons engage in this interesting ritual, but most scientists believe that it is related to raccoons’ innate tendency to forage for food near water sources.
Solving Conflicts Compassionately
Because raccoons are opportunistic feeders, the key to resolving conflicts with them is to contain available food sources. Once food is contained, raccoons will move on. Seal garbage cans (use bungee cords on lids), cover compost bins, and place netting over fish ponds. Putting out garbage on the day that it will be picked up will discourage raccoons from frequenting the area. Feed companion animals inside or be sure to remove any food placed outside when the animals are finished eating. Most importantly, never feed wildlife! Also, keep an outdoor light or radio on at night or use motion-detector lights or sprinklers to deter raccoons.
Raccoons give birth from January through June and often use attics and chimneys as dens to raise their young. If you discover a family of raccoons nesting in or around your home, the animals should not be removed until fall (when nesting season has ended) in order to avoid separating young raccoons from their parents. It is inhumane to let the little ones starve to death, and the mother will also try frantically to reach her young and could damage your property in the process. Young raccoons do not venture out of the nest until they are 8 to 9 weeks of age. Trapping and moving the family is not recommended because it will almost certainly separate the mother from her young. Furthermore, relocating solitary raccoons or small raccoon families is illegal in most places and will likely result in their being mauled and killed by resident raccoons.
When you’re certain that the young raccoons have left the nest, frightening devices, such as a portable radio or a mechanic’s light, can be used to evict the animals. Making the area as smelly as possible by placing a few ammonia-soaked rags is a very useful deterrent. Because raccoons are nocturnal animals, evicting them is easiest around dusk when they begin their nightly routines. Storms, dogs barking, or other atypical outdoor disturbances can delay eviction. If raccoons must be evicted during nesting season for safety reasons, it can take several days for a mother to move babies to a new nest once humane deterrents are in place.
Once you are certain that the raccoons have left, carefully inspect the area for animals before installing exclusion devices. Install a chimney cap and repair and seal openings. Never use smoke or fire to drive animals out of chimneys. This will almost certainly kill young animals who are not physically able to leave on their own—whether they be raccoons, squirrels, opossums, or birds. Once areas are sealed, watch and listen for signs that young animals have been trapped inside, including young animals crying out or moving inside walls or fixtures, mothers pacing in the vicinity, or mothers scratching, chewing, or pawing at the area. If you discover that young animals have been sealed inside, reopen the sealed area immediately so that the mother can attend to her young.
If for some reason you find an adult raccoon in your home after you seal off points of entry, remain calm. If left alone, raccoons will not cause any harm. The best thing to do is to close openings providing access to other parts of the house, open windows and doors through which the raccoon can exit, and then wait quietly for the animal to escape.
Once the raccoons have been evicted, you should not attempt to trap and remove raccoons from the property. Trapping and removing them will do nothing for long-term control, as the newly vacant niche will quickly be filled by raccoons from surrounding areas. Relocating raccoons—even to wild or wooded areas—is illegal in many places and will likely result in their death
Some of you may remember reading about the dreadful fish massacre that took place a few years ago while my husband and I were in transition, moving from the suburbs to our farm. Our house was pretty much vacant, but when I stopped by to pick up another load of “stuff,” I went to check on our beautiful koi pond. What I found was a bloody scene of terror, with dead, brutally beaten koi strewn about our patio and yard.
Despite the generous reward PETA offered for information leading to an arrest, the neighborhood punks who perpetrated this senseless violence eluded the law.
We mourned the loss of our cherished friends and began the gruesome cleanup. As we sorted through the devastation and destruction in our pond, we discovered one injured baby and a few fry hiding in the rocks. We immediately set up a “temporary” tank in our new garage and brought them to the farm. Our plan was to build a bigger, better koi pond in our back yard as soon as possible.
As soon as possible turned out to be seven years, but we were finally able to accomplish that goal. Unfortunately, the new pond was too late for most of the survivors of that shockingly horrible atrocity.
When we were down to one 20-inch orange koi earlier this year, my husband suggested finding him a new home. Instead, true to my motto “Where we go one, we go all,” this spring we headed to a pond store to purchase a few friends for Fishie.
The spectacular display ponds on the premises inspired us. My husband, who was struggling through chemotherapy, lit up. I hadn’t seen him that happy in months. He chatted with other customers and employees. We lingered, looking at waterscapes and fish. We were, to use a hilariously appropriate metaphor, hooked.
Chris tried to be sensible: we need to spend the money on medical bills. I concluded that the pond would be better medicine than many of his prescriptions, so I scheduled an appointment for an estimate.
After three estimates, we chose a pond builder. We had to wait all summer, but the pond was installed at last. Even before it was finished, I began looking for more fish. Fishie and the two fry we purchased that auspicious day would hardly fill this 11,000-gallon pond.
I saw a post on a local koi and pond page on Facebook: someone wanted to find a new home for two large koi because he was moving and needed to tear down his pond. I contacted him, but when he explained that he was selling, not re-homing, them and that each was priced around $100, I politely declined. My budget was busted on the pond.
I thought that was the end of that transaction, so I kept looking. But I heard back from this man a week later. He had sold one and wanted me to make an offer on the other, his last fish. Because our pond, which was supposed to have been completed by then, still wasn’t finished, I declined to make an offer. But he and I started talking “koi.” I shared photos and details of our pond. A week later, this kind man offered me his fish for free.
It turns out that Chou, a beautiful orange and white 12-inch Hariwake koi, was so lonely and depressed, he was in danger. He wasn’t eating. He wasn’t swimming around. He had lost almost all his color. Fortunately, this man put his fish’s well-being ahead of his bank account. He liked the looks of our pond and thought it would be a good home for Chou.
Over the years, I have rescued dogs, cats and even chickens. This would be my first fish rescue.
As soon as the pond was finished, filled and ready for fish, we drove up to get Chou. We also picked up some colorful fry: the more the merrier, right? We took steps to acclimate them and finally released everyone into the new pond on a warm, sunny afternoon. It was a blissful moment: the culmination of a long-planned dream.
For the first few days we noticed that Chou stayed close to Fishie, maintaining physical contact nearly every minute of the day. It was difficult to see where one fish ended and the other began. After a few days, as all the fish settled in and became familiar with their new surroundings, Chou established a bit of independence, but was usually found near either Fishie or the group of fry. Chou liked to be with his new friends.
We noticed something else, too. His color was returning. He was eating. He was swimming in patterns that I can only guess were joyous.
Not many people take time to think about the mental well-being of fish. Few consider the emotional health of their pets, and fewer still contemplate the happiness of wild or farmed animals. When we told visitors this tale, they were stunned that a fish could feel loneliness, that a fish might have emotions and yearn to be with others of his own kind.
I knew. It’s why I’ve been vegetarian for more than 30 years – and yes, that includes fish. (Why do people think vegetarians eat fish, anyway?) It’s why I’ve been against fishing since I was a little girl, watching in disgust as my uncle cleaned his catch. Fishing isn’t a sport and is not allowed on our farm pond. People ask. If they find out I’m vegetarian, they explain that it’s “only” catch and release – fear and torture, but not death.
The answer has always been and will always be no. No fishing allowed. I believe humans should be caretakers, not killers. We strive to give all the animals on our farm a safe environment where they can live a happy, healthy life with others of their kind. We know every animal experiences fear, sorrow, grief and loneliness. But they also feel joy, happiness, love and pleasure.
That’s why we are so elated to have been able to rescue Chou and offer him what we believe will be a happy home for him – a large pond with waterfalls to play in with plenty of friends. He won’t be lonely ever again.
Zoos claim to educate people and preserve species, but they usually fall short on both counts.
Most zoo enclosures are very small, and rather than promoting respect or understanding of animals, signs often provide little more information than an animal’s species, diet, and natural range.
Animals’ normal behavior is seldom discussed, much less observed, because their natural needs are rarely met. Birds’ wings may be clipped so that they cannot fly, aquatic animals are often without adequate water, and many animals who live in large herds or family groups in nature are kept alone or, at most, in pairs. Natural hunting and mating behaviors are virtually eliminated by regulated feeding and breeding regimens. Animals are closely confined, lack privacy, and have little opportunity for mental stimulation or physical exercise. These conditions often result in abnormal and self-destructive behaviors or “zoochosis.”