In Toronto, frustration and the rise of the 'uber-raccoon'
The arrest of a Toronto man on animal cruelty charges has brought local frustrations with the city's raccoon population to the surface.
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“We have to remember that they were here first. We’re encroaching on their territory because of urban development. So we have to learn to become as tolerant of them as they have become of us,” said Scott Sylvia, an investigations officer with the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Rascally raccoons
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But Toronto residents like Mr. Fava say they are fighting an uphill battle. He said he has spent hundreds of dollars to remove raccoons from his attic and to repair damage to a crawl space under his kitchen. He also has the latest “raccoon-proof” locks on his outdoor trash bins, but the raccoons have figured out how to open them. He often finds his trash strewn on the sidewalk.
“I’ve been dealing with it since ’98. I don’t grow any more vegetables. I don’t get to eat them because other animals, raccoons, get to them before I do,” he said.
Shaping an 'uber-raccoon'
In typical Canadian style, Mr. Fava and some of his neighbors want city and provincial governments to compensate them for the damage caused by raccoons. They also want the city to reduce the raccoon population or set up a program to neuter them.
Raccoon experts say reducing or neutering the population would be futile because numbers would soon rebound – raccoons can adapt to most habitats, reproduce easily, and have no natural predators. A 1998 study in Ontario found that the raccoon population size remained stable, even after 30 percent of them were removed, because new raccoons moved in to the vacated territory. The study also showed that the population grew once again after the removal program stopped.
A recent study suggests that by trying to control the animals, humans are making them smarter.
“One of the things we’re doing is providing them with bigger and bigger challenges so we’re actually shaping an uber-raccoon that is going to be able to compete in an urban environment,” said Suzanne MacDonald, the study author and a behavioral psychologist at Toronto’s York University.
MacDonald tagged five raccoons with GPS systems and traced their movements over several months. She found they stuck to a territory of about three blocks, which was usually defined by busy streets. She said they rarely crossed streets, and when they did it was at around 5 a.m., when there was no traffic. MacDonald said that suggests the animals have learned what time is best for avoiding cars, which remain their biggest threat in urban areas.