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Raccoons Are Getting Bolder

Some Brooklyn Areas Are Overrun With the Pests

By Raanan Geberer

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BROOKLYN — In the last few years, raccoons in such Brooklyn neighborhoods as Park Slope, Greenwood Heights, Prospect Heights and Sunset Park have become increasingly bold. In one well-publicized incident, a Park Slope homeowner opened her kitchen drawer only to find a raccoon.

Their numbers have increased twenty-fold in the past 70 years in the U.S.

Obviously, the raccoon problem isn’t only found in Brooklyn, or even Queens. “Raccoon Nation,” an episode of PBS’ “Nature” program, which will air here on Wednesday, Feb. 8, examines the critters in Toronto, Chicago, and even Japan and Germany.

And what they’ve learned is that no matter what methods people try, raccoons have the ability to learn new things and outwit them. This is clear when, in one part of the episode, pest control experts installed fixtures to block the route of drainpipes — perhaps the favorite access routes for raccoons. This worked — but only until they figured out how to get around the fixtures.

Aside from the annoyance factor, especially to people who happen to be growing crops in their back yard, raccoons can be a health hazard. They often consume garbage that contains roundworms. They’re immune to the worms, but they then excrete them in their feces, which can then contaminate pets and other animals.

The episode mainly follows a family of raccoons in Toronto, using electronic tools. It finds that every group of raccoons has its own territory, often only a few blocks wide. When people go to sleep, the raccoons take their own routes, through backyards, up and down drainpipes, into attics and garages, and so on.

Interestingly, even when they live across the street from a park, they rarely go there. This was noticed a few years ago by Aaron Brashear, a community leader in Greenwood Heights, who lives across from Green-Wood Cemetery. He told the Eagle that he’s seen raccoons occasionally dart across the street into the cemetery, but they soon return to the backyards.

The TV episode finally gives the reason why — wide streets serve as a barrier. “The raccoon avoids predators,” says the announcer, “and in the city, the automobile is its only predator.”

Ever wonder how raccoons can get into sheds and attics? The episode shows that they can collapse their spines, the same way rats can, and slither through small cracks.This photo taken with an infrared camera shows raccoons engaged in one of their favorite activities — trying to get into a garbage can.

As we’ve mentioned, as raccoons have become citified, they’ve become bolder. Brashear told the Eagle several years ago that in his native Ohio, they come out only at night, and they’d run away if you saw a human. Local raccoons, by contrast, have “that Brooklyn attitude,” and they stare right back at you.

Here’s yet another fact about citified raccoons—they often eat at trash dumps that become, in effect, feeding stations for urban “wildlife.” These locations attract rats, cats and raccoons. But when rats and cats come around, they know to wait until the raccoons are finished.

In New York City, one problem might be that the Health Department only intervenes when rabid raccoons are discovered. Otherwise, they’re considered wildlife, and those who want to get rid of them have to hire a trapper on their own

If you think things are bad here, consider the Buddhist shrines in Japan. Eighty percent of them have been damaged by raccoons who eat wood, plaster and other building materials. Raccoons were introduced into Japan as pets in the 1970s, and when those pets grew up, people released them into the wild. Unfortunately, since they are not native to the island, they have no predators there.

“Raccoon Nation” gives no solution to the problem of raccoons. But it does give attention to the problem, and is an interesting, entertaining program.

January 20, 2012 - 2:50pm


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