Posted tagged ‘raccoons Riverside park new york’

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.

Urban Raccoons in Winter

February 8, 2012

I hadn’t seen the raccoons that live in the Riverside Park retaining wall for some time.

Nice view.

I believe their numbers were cut down during the great raccoon rabies epidemic of 2010.  I once saw as many as six raccoons come out of this hole, like clowns from a clown car.  But lately, I’ve seen only two.

Two waschbären, or wash bears, as the Germans call raccoons. (from my archives)

And for the past few weeks, I haven’t seen any.

The raccoon den in February 2011 after a snowstorm.

Watching raccoons in winter is a bit trickier than in spring or summer. In wintry weather, raccoons may curl up in their dens for days at a stretch, sleeping away the cold. But in a bizarrely mild winter like the current one, the reason I haven’t seen them is more likely due to the simple fact that I don’t walk regularly in the park after dark.

Raccoons, even in New York City, are primarily nocturnal creatures, emerging as the sun sets to start their day. In summer, when light lingers well after nine pm, they are easy to spot on a leisurely evening dog walk.

Riverside Park sunset over Hudson River

But in February, night closes in on the city before dinner, let alone before the evening walk.

Sparkling New Jersey

And though I love the park at night, caution has been etched into my city soul by growing up and living in Manhattan throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s. I try to be reasonably cautious, limiting my night walks in the park which, in turn, limits my opportunities for raccoon sightings and other strange night visions.

A dog walks in the night park. (Its owner was not far behind.)

But after not seeing the raccoons for a while, I started to wonder: Are they healthy? Are they even there? So a couple of weeks ago, the dog and I went into the park shortly after dusk on several mild days to seek them.  And there they were, looking as healthy as ever. (I’ve enhanced the photos, as most were too dark to see.)

One raccoon was already a little distance north on the wall,

Wall walker

while the other seemed to be backing out of the den.

Backing out the front door

It turned around and took in the view. After watching for a while longer, we left.

Who's watching whom?

But wait. It was only later when I looked at my photos that I realized, a la David Hemming in Antonioni’s Blow-up, that there was a third pair of eyes, glowing in the darkness of the den.

Mystery glow.

Let’s enhance that photo, and see who’s there.

Aha. Revelation.

So it appears that at least three raccoons are living in the den this winter.

We’ll have to wait and see what spring brings.

Check out the archives for lots more on NYC raccoons!


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