Dealing with racoons

Cameron Don
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Many Nova Scotians have had dealings with the masked bandit over the years and no more so than this past summer. Although raccoons have never become well established on Cape Breton Island, they are very common in the rest of the province. Their numbers are extremely high in many spots, including the greater Halifax peninsula. In fact, according to wildlife technician Jenny Costelo of the Department of Natural Resources, the Waverley DNR office has received hundreds of calls on this mammal during the last few months.
Many people are surprised to learn that living in an urban environment is quite natural for a raccoon. In fact a recent study done in New York State found that the highest density of raccoons in the state occurred in the city of New York. They are highly intelligent creatures that like to take advantage of whatever food sources can be found around communities, whether it is a subdivision house or a valley farm. A more natural habitat for raccoons would be forested valleys near watercourses, but they learn quickly that food is always readily available wherever humans live.
Adult raccoons generally travel by themselves, except for females with young. The young are born anytime between April and June and usually spend the first winter with the female. When raccoons meet while foraging, there can often be a social exchange. Although they are not true hibernators, they do den up and sleep lightly during the winter, except for when mating occurs (late January to March). This species is a true omnivore whose natural diet includes fruit, nuts, insects, freshwater mussels, amphibians, turtles, rodents and birds.
Farmers have to contend with raccoons eating crops, while many homeowners are well aware of their preference for garbage.
When raccoon numbers become high, they become more vulnerable to diseases, such as distemper or rabies. To date, there has been virtually no cases of rabies in terrestrial mammals in Nova Scotia. However, distemper never seems to leave the population and can often be found in some areas.
Recently, raccoon distemper has been confirmed in Amherst and Musquodoboit Harbour. Distemper is a neurological disorder that does not affect humans, but can be caught by dogs and cats, depending on the strain. Consequently, it is always important to make sure pet vaccinations are kept up-to-date. Raccoons exhibiting symptoms of distemper would be lethargic and usually will not move when approached.
There could also be a mucous discharge from the nose and eyes and the animal may have convulsions. Sick raccoons should be reported to the local DNR office.
Raccoons can be easily kept out of garbage by using screw top cans and tying them so that they can't be tipped over. If using a regular container, fasten a bungee cord over the top.
Pregnant females will sometimes try to give birth to young in attics, sheds or chimneys. These animals may have to be removed by live trapping. Homeowners can rent or buy live traps, or they can hire Nuisance Wildlife Operators to remove the raccoon for them. Additional information can be found on the Internet at or contact a local DNR office.

Organizations: Department of Natural Resources

Geographic location: New York State, Cape Breton Island, Halifax Nova Scotia Amherst Musquodoboit Harbour

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