- The name “raccoon” comes from a Native American word meaning “he scratches with his hands.”
- Raccoons are nocturnal, omnivorous and opportunistic, eating berries, nuts, small mammals, fish and scrap food.
- Raccoons are very intelligent, have a highly developed sense of touch and can unlock locks and get into unsealed garbage cans.
- An estimated 20% (at least) of raccoons are naturally immune to the rabies virus, and these immune individuals act as a “buffer” between a rabid animal and other animals/species.
- Traditionally raccoons den in holes in tree trunks, but with trees disappearing from the urban landscape, they often opt for chimneys, attics, basements and garages instead.
- Raccoons are excellent, loyal mothers, and give birth to 4 or 5 babies, called kits. At about 8 weeks old, the kits start leaving their dens at night with their mother to find food, and they then stay with her for up to a year. The kits’ dependence on their mother during this period makes them extremely vulnerable if the mother is trapped and taken away. Young kits in particular will not be able to survive by themselves.
- Raccoons are not the mortal enemies of cats! While the odd individual raccoon may have issues with cats (and vice versa), generally speaking the two species co-exist well, and raccoons will usually have enough sense to back off when confronted by a hissing cat. Of course, the best way to ensure there is no conflict is to keep your cat indoors at all times.
How to avoid problems with raccoons
- Make sure there are no holes or other access points on the outside of your house, especially attics and basements. Make sure your chimney is capped.
- Don’t ever leave food garbage bags lying around, since this attracts wildlife. Keep them in sealed garbage cans. Place garbage out for collection in the morning, where possible.
- If you absolutely must let your cat outdoors and have a cat door, use a magnetic cat flap that only opens for your cat, or keep the door closed at night.
- Create areas in fish ponds at least 3-feet deep and make rock piles for the fish to shelter under.
There’s a raccoon family in my chimney, attic, basement…
Ideally, you should wait until the kits are old enough for the mother to take them out permanently. Then when they’re gone, block up the entry hole or install a chimney cap. If you really can’t wait, use three things raccoons dislike most to evict them: smell, light and sound. Just before dusk, place rags soaked in ammonia round the attic or place a bowl of ammonia behind the closed chimney damper. Position a blaring radio near to the den (rap music works well). Switch on all lights. This technique may take a few days, but it will work if done correctly. Once you are sure the raccoons are gone, seal the entry hole.
Raccoons and the environment
Raccoons play an important role in controlling rodent populations, and our friends at Rancho Raccoon tell how raccoons love to savor yellowjackets. They do get stung, but apparently the taste is worth it!
Top: Eric Isselée
Bottom: Frank-Peter Wendt