Wild animals that have been in captivity are especially difficult to rehome, and in most cases, habituated animals cannot be returned to the wild, leaving zoos or educational facilities as the only option. A raccoon named Milly has Washington State University veterinarians reminding the public to call a wildlife rehabilitator before intervening with orphaned or injured wildlife. To make matters worse, it is illegal to transport raccoons across state lines, so the only options were limited to centers in Washington state.
Raccoon Facts – Procyon lotor
- Raccoons are nocturnal animals, which means they are active during the night and sleep during the day.
- Raccoons have a highly developed sense of touch, which is why they are able to manipulate objects with their hands so well.
- Raccoons are great climbers and are able to climb trees and buildings with ease.
- Raccoons are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and animals. Their diet includes fruits, nuts, insects, small animals, and even human food.
- Raccoons are excellent swimmers and can swim up to 5 miles per hour.
- Raccoons are intelligent animals and are able to remember solutions to tasks for up to three years.
- Raccoons have a unique way of washing their food before they eat it. They wet their hands in water and rub their food to remove any dirt or debris.
- Raccoons have a highly developed sense of smell and can use it to locate food and predators.
- Raccoons can live up to 3-4 years in the wild, and up to 20 years in captivity.
- Raccoons are highly adaptable animals and can survive in many different environments, from forests to cities.
Members of the raccoon family are all medium-sized and short legged and have a flat-footed (plantigrade) bearlike gate. They commonly have a pointed snout, a relatively long body, a broad face, round or pointed ears, and fur color usually grizzled to gray-brown, but varies from cinnamon to near black. Raccoons have the characteristic dark mask with pale eyebrows, banded tail, and pale feet. All species have short claws and raccoons feature front paws developed into sensitive, mobile hands. Highly arboreal species, raccoons can rotate their ankle joints and hang by their feet when feeding or descending tree trunks.
There are almost no habitat raccoons cannot occupy, but it prefers edge habitats and areas associated with water. Lives in close association with humans, including in urban areas and large cities.
Raccoons are omnivorous, opportunistic, and their diet varies with location, season, and the availability of food sources. They will eat fruit, roots, shoots, and nuts, as well as insects and small vertebrates, such as birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Raccoons use their dexterous hands to reach into streams to feel for crustations, fish and other prey. Their unfussy palate also brings them into urban areas, where they raid garbage cans and fearlessly solicit food from householders.
Foraging is mainly nocturno-crepuscular, most food is found by the raccoon’s keen sense of smell and captured or handled with its very dextrous front feet; often ‘washes’ food in water, although as clean food is also submerged, the actual purpose is unclear. Raccoons do not hibernate, but northern populations may overwinter in dens for weeks or months, during which time they live off accumulated fat.
Most populations mate February-March, with a gestation of 54-78 days. Litter size 1-8, averaging 2-5 kittens that are largely independent by 17-18 weeks, but often rejoin the mother for winter denning; the family finally breaks up the following spring.
Debunking common myths and misconceptions about raccoons:
Myth: Raccoons are aggressive and dangerous. Reality: While raccoons can be defensive if they feel threatened, they are not naturally aggressive towards humans.
Myth: Raccoons are carriers of rabies. Reality: While raccoons can carry rabies, not all raccoons have the disease, and the risk of transmission to humans is relatively low.
Myth: Raccoons are dirty and carry diseases. Reality: Raccoons are relatively clean animals, and the risk of disease transmission from raccoons to humans is low if proper precautions are taken.
Myth: Raccoons are pests and should be exterminated. Reality: Raccoons play an important role in many ecosystems, and their removal can have unintended consequences. Humane methods of control and prevention should be used instead.
Myth: Raccoons are easy to keep as pets. Reality: Raccoons are wild animals and are not suitable as pets. Keeping a raccoon as a pet is illegal in many states and can be dangerous for both the raccoon and the owner.
Meet our Raccoons
Milly was just a baby last summer when humans suspected she was orphaned and took her in. Rather than ensure Milly was truly orphaned and transfer her to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, the couple decided to illegally keep the raccoon as a pet.
“She grew up into a full-size raccoon, as raccoons do, and then she started to get into trouble, as raccoons do; so, they reached out to us to see if we could find her a different home,” said Marcie Logsdon, a veterinarian at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
Fortunately, Milly has found a space at Cat Tales, Spokane’s nonprofit wildlife center. Milly was very lucky to find a home as an educational ambassador, placements such as this are few and far between.
“It’s getting warmer earlier this year and we are already getting reports of spring babies. We want to remind people who encounter wildlife they suspect to be injured or orphaned to find their nearest wildlife rehabilitator and call first before intervening,” Dr. Logsdon said. “And please, never try to keep wildlife, like Milly, as pets – it’s illegal in most states and often has a very sad ending.” She said it is easy to mistake a healthy baby for one that may be orphaned or injured.