Posted tagged ‘Manhattan raccoons’

NYC Baby Raccoon Woes

June 2, 2020

From the Walking the Pandemic Series

Two young raccoons gaze out at Riverside Park as the sun sets over the Hudson.

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a video of urban raccoon babies venturing out from their den in the retaining wall of Riverside Park. Amusing and cute, like babies everywhere.

But life in the urban raccoon world is complex and so is the intersection between urban humans and the wildlife that lives among them.

Three masked animals regard each other.

Since we’re in the middle of a pandemic caused by a wildlife disease, let’s start with raccoon health.

Check out the raccoon on the left in the photo below: No tail. Not even a stub! This could be due to a genetic abnormality or the result of a scuffle with one of its many siblings or perhaps with an adult raccoon.

No tail.

More worrisome is that many of these young raccoons are suffering extensive hair loss.

No pants.

They look, well, mangy.

Mange is, in fact, my guess as to what’s ailing them. Sarcoptic mange is caused by parasitic mites that lay eggs beneath the surface of the skin where the larvae hatch. Some burrow to the surface, while others burrow deeper into the skin, causing intense itchiness. The mites are highly contagious, so it’s hardly surprising that most, if not all, of these raccoons are showing signs of the disease.

Bare-chested.

Mange is not lethal in itself. But infected animals tend to scratch excessively in an attempt to relieve the itch.

This well-furred if itchy raccoon was photographed in 2011. It is not one of the current crop.

All the scratching can inflame and break the skin, causing secondary infections which in turn can lead to death. I reported the situation to the Urban Park Rangers who confirmed that it sounded like mange and said the rangers would check on the raccoons to assess the situation.

About ten years ago, Riverside Park’s squirrel population suffered from mange. The following year, I talked about the disease with a man I met in the park. He fed the squirrels when he could afford to and called them his friends.

“I was afraid they was all going to die off,” he said. “Lot of them did die. But they came back. Yes, they came back.”

A friend to Riverside Park’s squirrels.

I’ve been watching raccoons in Riverside Park since 2009 and this is the first year I’ve noticed mange. Which is not to say the raccoon population has been healthy all this time.

In 2018, an outbreak of canine distemper killed hundreds of raccoons in NYC’s parks. And in 2010, a rabies epidemic swept through Manhattan’s raccoon population. You can read my coverage of the epidemic here, including the painstaking, humane and remarkably effective response by USDA, the Parks Department and the NYC Department of Health that involved trapping, examining and vaccinating the entire non-rabid raccoon population. Non-lethal traps were baited with … well, who knew raccoons like marshmallows?

But then, what don’t they like?

Garbage raider along Morningside Park.

Which brings me to the ongoing problem of New Yorkers feeding the wildlife, which seems to me worse than ever during the pandemic. I understand. We’ve all been shut up and confined. Many of us are craving connection with nature and more people are out walking in the parks at all hours of the day. People often feed animals out of a genuine, but misplaced desire to be generous and to help. But please, for your own sake and for the sake of the animals: don’t do it!

As of mid-May, large amounts of food were being left out nightly on the retaining wall, directly above the den. And as you can see, it did not go to waste. (Of course, whatever raccoons don’t eat simply helps to sustain our bloated rat population. But that’s another story.)

Nuts, sandwiches and take-out dinners have all been left for the raccoons.

Instead of learning to forage effectively on their own in the park, these curious babies are learning that food comes from humans. They’re already coming to expect it.

Is the buffet laid out up there yet?

This is not healthy for either species. We need our wildlife to stay wild. Our parks offer plenty of natural food, even discounting the raided garbage cans.

I haven’t been able to check on the raccoons since mid-May, but will post more about them as soon as I can.

Meanwhile, stay healthy and keep our wildlife healthy.

Raccoon Carries Baby in Riverside Park

April 7, 2013

Last night I saw something I’d never seen before: a mother raccoon carrying her tiny baby in her mouth.

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The photos, sadly, are blurry. My camera had run out of battery, so I had only my iPhone, which doesn’t do well in low light.

I entered the park just as the sun was setting over the Hudson River.

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I scanned the great retaining wall for raccoons.

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The setting sun illuminated the entrance to a den, but no animals were visible.

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We walked south for a while, then returned to take another look at the wall. A short distance from the primary den, a raccoon was moving on the wall, carrying something in its mouth. My first thought, oddly, perhaps, was that it was carrying some kind of prey. But no, this was a baby raccoon, dangling from the mother’s mouth twenty feet above the ground.

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The mother carried it gingerly along the wall. At last, she ducked into a hole and disappeared.  Loud, deep growling sounds came from the wall. Clearly the hole was occupied. It sounded like pigs grunting. I worried that the baby might be injured by the surly host.

The dog, tied up a short distance away, was fascinated by the rather alarming sounds.

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After some time, the mother emerged, the baby still dangling from her mouth, and continued heading north along the wall. It’s not easy to walk on that wall, even without a baby in your mouth. She went almost all the way to the top.

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 I could see the head of a pedestrian who strolled along the uppermost promenade, unaware of of the raccoons just a few feet below. Then the mother carefully made her way down the great wall until she reached the ground. Skirting the base of the wall, she continued north on all fours, moving much faster than she could on the vertical surface of the wall.

I left the mother and her baby to their night’s journey. I am guessing that, for whatever reason, she was seeking out a new den, or perhaps, a second den. I hope she found what she was looking for. If there were other babies to be moved, I hope she managed to go back and get them all safely settled. No matter how much wildlife behavior we are lucky enough to observe, there is so much more that goes on unobserved. Mystery remains, even deepens, and every observation raises new questions that keep me coming back to the park, and back to the animals.

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I believe this is the mother raccoon, seen here ten days ago.

Good luck, mama.

For much more on New York City’s raccoons, see the raccoon archives.

NYC Vaccinating Raccoons To Stop Rabies Epidemic

February 18, 2010

I spoke Tuesday with Dr. Sally Slavinski of the NYC Health Department to get the latest on the city’s response to the swiftly spreading rabies situation. I will write a more detailed post as soon as I can find time, but here is the news in a nutshell, with few details, few photos and little discussion.

As of February 10, 39 rabid raccoons have been found in Manhattan in 2010, most of them in or around Central Park. Add in 2009’s rabid raccoons, and the number is a staggering 49. (A number that makes us wonder just how large is the Central Park raccoon population – but that’s for a later post.)

Central Park raccoon by dscape/Flickr.com

One person and one dog have been bitten, and received post-exposure treatment. Another person received treatment after attempting to care for a sick raccoon. (In another post, I’ll fill you in on the latest from conspiracy theorists, who believe the city intentionally introduced rabies to justify eradicating a healthy raccoon population. Or something like that.)

So what is the city doing? On February 16th, in a multi-agency collaboration with the USDA, the Parks Department and the Central Park Conservancy, the Department of Health began a trap-vaccinate-release program to vaccinate raccoons in Central Park against rabies.

For the next four to eight weeks, raccoons will be caught in live traps that are strategically placed in less accessible areas of the park. The animals will be vaccinated on the spot by USDA workers, given ear tags for identification, and released back into their home environment. Raccoons that appear sick will be euthanized and tested for rabies.  The program will expand to include Morningside Park (two reported cases) and Riverside Park (no reported cases).

In summer 2010, a second phase of trap-vaccinate-release will be launched to vaccinate baby raccoons born this spring.

Raccoons that are already infected will die within days of showing symptoms. If we can stop the cycle of transmission through inoculation, we can, theoretically, eradicate the virus. At least, for now. And when the next rabid raccoon follows the Amtrak corridor into Manhattan, our local raccoons will already be immunized.

Snowed-in Raccoon Den in Riverside Park

I checked to be sure the Department of Health had plans to immunize the five raccoons I watch in Riverside, and am happy to report that a location has already been selected for a trap.

Much more to come. But meanwhile, if you come upon a trap in the park, leave it alone. Call 311 if the trap holds a raccoon. Also call 311 if you see a raccoon that appears sick or is behaving strangely. But leave the wildlife alone.

Esau imagines himself as King, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon's lead sled dog

And be sure your dog’s rabies vaccination is up to date.


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