How to Get Rid of a Nuisance Raccoon: What to Do and Who to Call When You Find a Raccoon on Your Property
Raccoons are family-oriented animals who, contrary to popular knowledge, depend upon their clans for protection, enrichment, and survival. While North American raccoons originally inhabited deciduous and mixed forest areas, they have adapted to survive a number of different habitats, including marsh, mountain, and urban regions, where their natural curiosity causes some people to view them as pests. Raccoons have dexterous forepaws and distinctive mask markings on their faces; each of these features figures prominently in Native American myths and beliefs about the raccoon. In many of these stories, the raccoon plays a trickster figure but, unlike trickster figures in other belief systems, the raccoon is not malevolent.
In one Abenaki tale, Azeban, a raccoon trickster figure, plays a trick on two blind men; in another, he challenges a waterfall to a shouting contest and loses the match. In each case, Azeban is a fairly harmless creature who learns a lesson from his tricks—which he plays, more often than not, for the sake of obtaining food or a favor.
Many Tuscarora stories about the raccoon focus on the creature’s paws, which are hyper-sensitive. Vibrissae—specialized hairs—on the raccoon’s front paws provide it with superior sense of touch and tactile sensation; in fact, a raccoon can identify an object before touching it due to the vibrissae on its forepaws. According to research conducted by Ulf Hohmann, a German ethologist, about two-thirds of the area in the raccoon’s cerebral cortex responsible for sensory perception interprets touch and tactile impulses only. The cerebral cortex of no other studied animal has evinced this specialized function.
Other stories, like those of the Dakota Sioux, center on the raccoon’s distinct facial markings, which resemble a bandit’s mask or, in the case of the Sioux tales, tribal facial paintings used in rituals. They call the raccoon wee-kah tegalega, “magic one with painted face.” Women are afforded places of honor and power in Native American tribes; many stories give the same to the female raccoon. The Aztec name for the female raccoon is cioatlamacasque —“she who talks with spirits,” “she who knows things.” The Yakima call her tsa-ga-gla-tal, “she who watches.”
Nature and Nurture
Perhaps the mother raccoon’s extraordinary intelligence and commitment to her kits are the reasons these and other tribes associate her with wisdom and supernatural abilities. In fact, the raccoon might be one of the most affectionate of nature’s mothers, providing her babies with growth, learning, and enrichment activities to prepare them for dispersion. Male raccoons do not take part in raising and nurturing the kits.
Female and juvenile raccoons live in groups with other adult females and their kits. They are clan-oriented and territorial, which is why, from a wildlife rehabilitation and conservation standpoint, it is extremely important not to trap and relocate live raccoons. Many raccoons that are relocated to new territory die there, not only from human-related incidents like car accidents and fear, but also from raccoon-related incidents: local raccoons may injure or kill raccoons from outside clans in an attempt to protect their territory. Thus, the whole idea of “live trapping” is deceptive, because it really does not do any good for the raccoons and is the opposite of humane. These animals will actually relocate themselves and their clan if you are willing to employ a little patience and the proper techniques, which I describe below.
Trapping and relocating a raccoon can also be dangerous for inexperienced and experienced individuals alike, since raccoons are Rabies Vector Species and may carry the distemper virus. If you find a raccoon on your property alone, disoriented, and with nasal and/or eye discharge, you should immediately contact a local wildlife rehabilitator licensed to care for Rabies Vector Species. Your local Health Department will also want to test the animal. Please note that if you find a raccoon on your property in the daytime, this does not immediately indicate that the animal is rabid or dangerous: mother raccoons will forage during the day in order to feed their kits.
Humane Treatment of Raccoons
You may notice baby raccoons roaming your property. When juvenile raccoons are learning to forage and other survival skills, they become adventurous and may wander away from their mother when she takes them out to explore. Do not automatically assume that these babies are rabid or dangerous; they are probably just looking for their mother, who is also looking for them. You can give them a little comfort while they wait for mom by setting up a temporary shelter. Turn a cardboard box on its side and make a bedding of soft flannel or fleece (no terry or other material that can catch the animals’ nails). You can provide them with some snacks, such peanut butter sandwiches, chopped up fresh fruits and vegetables, and a little dry cat food (do not overfeed cat food to raccoons as it can cause gout). Raccoons like to douse their food before eating, so you can also provide them with a large dish of fresh water.
Avoid touching the raccoons if possible. If a Rabies Vector Species comes into contact with a human or pet in any way—whether a bite, scratch, or merely a touch with bare hands—that animal must be reported to the health department and tested for rabies. If you need to coax the raccoons into the shelter, wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants, gloves, and protective face gear if you have it. Contrary to popular knowledge, touching a baby animal will not discourage its mother from returning to it—so yes, it is okay to put that baby bird or bunny back in its nest.
Most likely the baby raccoons will go into the shelter on their own when they sense the food. Keep all animals and humans away from the raccoons, and check on the babies at nightfall; by that time, their mother will be active again and will return for her babies.
If you have a family of raccoons on your property, you can get rid of them without calling animal control or a nuisance removal company. Radios have been shown to work extremely well in moving raccoons from private property; wildlife rehabilitation departments, such as the one at the SPCA Serving Erie County where I volunteer, often use this technique both to move raccoons and educate the community on humane methods for dealing with nuisance wildlife.
This technique works if you have a raccoon or raccoons nesting in your garage, your chimney, or other area on your property. Place a radio in that location, turned up to a volume that you can tolerate day and night, for 48–72 hours; this will tell the mother raccoon that the area is not safe for her kits, and will encourage her to move her family. If there are glass doors on your fireplace, make sure that you place the radio on the inside of the fireplace, as near to the flue as possible. You can also place tin cans filled with ammonia-soaked rags and towels in the area.
Usually the moving process takes up to 72 hours because the mother raccoon will choose a new location and prepare a nest there before moving her kits. To prevent her from moving from your chimney to your garage, place cans of ammonia-soaked rags in any area you want to discourage raccoons from inhabiting. After the family has moved, check the area to make sure that all kits left with their mother, and then repair any holes or damaged walls and windows that could allow raccoons and other critters future access to that area. If the raccoons were living in your chimney, have a professional chimney sweep check to make sure that all raccoons have vacated the area, then clean and cap the chimney to prevent future incidents.
If you have a raccoon in a window well, stairwell, dumpster, or similar feature on your property, employ the radio and ammonia rag techniques mentioned above. In addition, wrap a board or plank with a heavy cloth, and then place the board at an angle in the problem area. The next step is the most important: leave it alone! Keep everyone and everything away from that area. The combination of radio noise and ammonia will tell the raccoon that this is not a safe place, and the board will encourage it to climb out of the area.
Of course, there are some situations that call for professional help. In these, contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator or organization that does wildlife rehabilitation (if the organization is not licensed to treat RVS animals, they may be able to refer you to local private rehabbers who are). They will be able to advise your next steps to ensure health, safety, and happiness—for you and the animal.