Raccoons, Marshmallows and the U.S. Government

Last weekend, Esau and I discovered a gray box snuggled up against the retaining wall in Riverside Park.

Mystery box

A round hole at either end led to a small chute and a dark interior.

Flowers at the front door

High in the wall, just south of the box, is a raccoon den. I know it’s a raccoon den because, for the past year, I’ve been regularly watching raccoons as they emerge from this hole to watch the world go by before venturing out on evening raids into the park.  I have on occasion seen as many as five or six raccoons pour out of the hole like bulky little clowns out of a clown car.

Are you looking at me?

“Aha!” I thought gleefully, and my heart danced. “I am at long last seeing, with my own eyes, the traps used by the USDA to catch raccoons.”  Need I remind you of my fascination with NYC’s dramatic outbreak of raccoon rabies as well as the USDA’s patient and effective program to vaccinate virtually every raccoon residing in Manhattan?

The vaccination program began last spring in Central Park, the epidemic’s epicenter, and branched out into Morningside Park and Riverside Park. (Click to read about the program and about Lee Humberg, the biologist in charge.)  By April, over 230 raccoons had already been vaccinated and tagged for future identification.

The current round of trapping allows the USDA to vaccinate any raccoons that may have been missed as well as juveniles that were too young or vagrants that have wandered into the area. If a trapped animal appears unwell, it will be euthanized and tested for rabies. This humane and labor-intensive approach has led to a steep drop-off in the number of raccoon rabies cases with only three confirmed reports in the past three months. Compare that to March 2010 with a monthly high of 38 confirmed cases.

But this trap was targeting my raccoons, and I wanted to know more about it.

I longed for a closer look at the gray box, but was deterred by fencing put up by the Riverside Park Fund to protect their lovely plantings.

So Esau and I walked south on the path near the wall, keeping our four eyeballs peeled.

Sure enough, about four blocks south we found a second gray box,  identical to the first, but on an unfenced slope. We drew near and read this intimidating warning

on the hinged and securely padlocked lid

In other words: Mind your own beeswax.

Undeterred but cautious, we peered inside and saw that each round hole led to a separate (empty) wire mesh “Have-a-Heart” trap, baited with … marshmallows

Start the fire and find a stick.

The traps were gone within a couple of days. Whether any raccoons were caught – or were spotted roasting marshmallows and making s’mores – remains just another small NYC mystery.

Explore posts in the same categories: Central Park, In the City, November, NYC Parks, rabies, raccoons, Riverside Park

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10 Comments on “Raccoons, Marshmallows and the U.S. Government”

  1. […] Please see another, fascinating, and very different story about marshmallows, written by and posted on Out Walking The Dog. […]

  2. […] is the same den I’ve been watching for years now. In 2009 or 2010, before the raccoon rabies epidemic hit, I once saw six raccoons emerge from this den, like clowns from a clown car. Last night, seven […]

  3. […] there appears to be no tag on the raccoon’s ear, which means it was not vaccinated during the rabies epidemic of 2010. It may not yet have been […]

  4. […] estimate was based on analyzing the raccoons that were trapped and evaluated in the two-round Trap-Vaccinate-Release program managed by the USDA in 2010. Here’s a terrific video of the TVR Program in action in […]

  5. […] trap, vaccinate and release every one of Manhattan’s many healthy raccoons.  (Surprisingly, marshmallows seem to be the urban raccoon’s bait of choice.)  Well, despite skeptics, that […]

  6. Charlotte Says:

    Oh those marshmallows are so funny, I can just see the little guys roasting around the campfire. Who thought of that I wonder?

    Goodbye outwalkingthedog and Esau until the Spring!! Miss you already.

  7. mthew Says:

    Hard to believe that sophisticated urban raccoons are going to be gulled by marshmallows, but maybe the research was all about what makes good bait.

  8. Barbara Says:

    ahhh raccoons, those pesky little devils who drive my dogs crazy at 2:30 in the morning, stealing seeds from the bird feeders and swimming in the pond…trying to catch fish and frogs… but they sure are cute.

    Great that the USDA has decided to trap and vaccinate your bunches of raccoons… rabies is an ugly way to die, and also – like Bill to have prevented. Nasty stuff.

    All for helping nature and humans learning how to get along together better! Great post.

  9. Bill Says:

    Sounds like a great program that will allow urban raccoons to carry on while stemming the rabies problem. I was bitten by a rabid raceoon a few years back, several times, and it wasn’t a lot of fun, and neither were the 5 weeks of rabies treatments.

  10. Fascinating!!!!Daddy-O

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