Photo courtesy of the Gotham Coyote Project. Via the New York Times.
If coyotes and deer are surviving and thriving in the city, you’ve got to expect that raccoons are there and making a go of it too. After all, they’re wilier than coyotes and more dexterous and adaptable than deer and they like being around people. Not because they like us. They like our garbage. All that food we throw away makes any place where there are humans an all-night diner for raccoons. All night, please note. Raccoons are mainly nocturnal. See one out and about in the daylight, steer clear and call wildlife control. Odds are it’s rabid. One of the things about raccoons that makes them not as warm and cuddlesome as they appear and are often made out to be in movies, stories, songs, and cartoons---they’re a “rabies-vectors species”. They’re also mean and ornery and have chips on their shoulders. It’s having hands that does that. Makes them feel superior to other animals. The other thing they like about being around people is that people build shelters for them. We call those shelters houses or garden sheds or garages, et cetera. The raccoons call them home. And they long ago figured out that the foodstuff that’s easy pickings in the garbage cans outside is available with not much more effort inside.
Raccoons are often thought of as forest-dwelling creatures, but they can reach a very high density in cities, said Samuel I. Zeveloff, a professor of zoology at Weber State University in Utah and the author of “Raccoons, A Natural History.”
“They’re truly incredible in their adaptability,” Professor Zeveloff said. Raccoons are omnivorous and opportunistic, easily switching from eating grubs or bird eggs to devouring human and pet food, and from living in tree hollows to inhabiting attics and chimneys. This flexibility, combined with a relative lack of predators, can lead to rapid population growth.
But what experts call raccoons’ “synanthropic trend” — their capacity to thrive among humans — can also feel invasive. Female raccoons looking for a den to deliver their kits, as the offspring are called, can squeeze through vents and chimneys, tear through screens and lift up shingles with their dexterous forepaws.
So you really don’t want them in the neighborhood.
Folks in Brooklyn have learned that. Raccoons are moving in. And these aren’t hipster raccoons. They’re not there to hang out at coffee shops and talk about the novels they’re planning to write.
A truck pulled up at a small house with a brick porch and a garden on a recent afternoon, and a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt climbed out. A woman led him to the backyard. When they emerged a few minutes later, he was carrying a wire-mesh cage.
The woman handed the man a check, and he put the cage into his truck. As he drove away, he murmured comforting words in the direction of his cargo. On this day it was a male raccoon, lured into a trap with a handful of cat kibble.
Where, exactly, was the man taking the animal? “I’m not going to reveal that,” he said. “No one is going to reveal that.”
The episode did not happen in the countryside or the suburbs, but in the middle of Brooklyn, in South Park Slope.
The woman, Wendy Hooker, a retired designer of window displays, had first called the trapper in August after seeing a dozen raccoons “wilding” in her yard, as she put it. This one, caught in December, was among the last of the bunch.
“They were trashing my grapevine, beating my cat,” Ms. Hooker said. “It was like a frat party. They were insane.”
Some people find them funny:
New Yorkers love the animals’ antics. In Central Park last year, a “pizza raccoon” was seen tucking into a slice in the branches of a tree. In Brooklyn, an apparently drunk raccoon staggered through a beer distributor’s warehouse. Images of others have appeared on social media, climbing building facades, fire escapes and even tightrope walking along electrical cables.
But don’t fall for their apparent charm.
For a few years, William and Malya Levin could hear the loud movements of a raccoon above their Park Slope apartment. “It sounded like a large dog,” Mr. Levin said. Then they endured the stench of what they believed was a kit that had fallen into a cavity in a wall and died. Later, the Levins knocked a hole in their kitchen wall to extract another kit. (They called the exterminator Nice Jewish Boys Who Kill Bugs, which removed the raccoon and said it had been taken to a rehabilitator outside the city.)
Raccoons have mauled a chicken being raised in a Crown Heights backyard and frequently fight with feral cats. When threatened, they growl, hiss and screech.
In Sunset Park, when residents of a walk-up discovered a raccoon family living in an unused chimney, the mother fled down a fire escape, screeching, and then two of her kits hurled themselves off the roof. The kits survived, but “it was a traumatic night,” one resident, Michael Fleshman, said.
There’s another problem:
In Carroll Gardens last year, at least two raccoon families moved onto one block. Antonia Martinelli, who chronicled the invasion on her blog The Momtropolis, noted the animals’ unnerving habit of staring in people’s windows from fire escapes. But it was “the sheer amount of waste, mounds and mounds of it,” that Ms. Martinelli said drove her neighbors to contact Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon. Raccoon feces can carry roundworm.
And once they’ve moved in, they’re hard to get rid of. Trap them---and it’s not recommended you do that yourself. Law sense you can’t, in fact. You’re supposed to hire a licensed trapper---and what do you with them? Laws says they’re to be euthanized “in a humane fashion”, a good idea if they’re showing signs of being rabid---outside in the daytime, staggering about, settling in one spot and not budging when challenged---or acting out dangerously’
But many trappers, as well as homeowners who do the job themselves, say they transport raccoons to parks or wilderness areas and set them free instead, because they don’t have the heart to do what is legally required.
Taking them to a park or out into the woods makes sense. They’re woodland creatures, after all, right?
The problem, experts say, is that from there, the animals tend to wander into the nearest neighborhood. People see wooded areas as the animals’ natural habitat, where they belong. But these are city raccoons that tend to make a U-turn for civilization when dropped off in nature, said Stanley D. Gehrt, a wildlife ecologist at Ohio State University who has studied urban raccoons for two decades. “When you take them and drop them off in a natural environment, they’re going to look for buildings,” he said. “It’s what they’re used to.”
And so, it appears, the spread of raccoons is being aided by the very people employed to combat it.
The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge lies on the city’s southeast edge. Along with Floyd Bennett Field and the Marine Park Golf Course across the bay, it serves as perhaps the biggest raccoon dumping ground in the city.
“We don’t kill them,” said an exterminator from Queens who said he could not provide his name without his employer’s authorization. “We take it to the refuge.”
There is evidence of the consequences in Broad Channel, a Queens neighborhood of wooden homes on stilts, near the refuge. “The neighborhood has been invaded like crazy,” said Peter Perugini, a trapper with Above All Pest Management in Nassau County.
Mr. Perugini said he had removed raccoons from four Broad Channel homes last year and euthanized them. He described “lots of property damage.” One family, he said, had been forced to rip off their roof and pull out the insulation because it was caked in feces.
Even when they stay put, they cause trouble.
In the refuge, shore-nesting birds and diamondback terrapin turtles have suffered as a result of the raccoons’ arrival, said Russell L. Burke, a Hofstra University biology professor and terrapin expert.
Just three decades ago, there were no raccoons in the area, he said. He added that now, “the terrapin population is crashing.” Raccoons ate 95 percent of the terrapin eggs at the refuge in 2015, he said.
So, what’s to be done? This article by Annie Correal I’ve been mining at the New York Times, Raccoons Invade Brooklyn, has some examples. It’s a good long read as in good and long but more as in good with lots of anecdotes and information and sketches of city life. One on the many fun things I learned: there’s an exterminator business in the City called Nice Jewish Boys Who Kill Bugs.
Anyway, you should read the whole article.
Then you should visit the Gotham Coyote Project’s website.