Last weekend, Esau and I discovered a gray box snuggled up against the retaining wall in Riverside Park.
A round hole at either end led to a small chute and a dark interior.
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.
“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
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
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.