The Raccoon

July 15, 2020

    The Raccoon is an animal with incredible resilience, able to live both in the trees or rural areas and on the streets of urban areas. The raccoons adaptation to different environments has allowed its population to grow large. This paper will explore the effects of large populations of raccoons including interactions with other species, interactions with humans, and economic effects to farmers. We will also explore the culture of harvesting the raccoon. 

 

    Ecosystems and the species that inhabit them are closely intertwined. Healthy systems have balance between predator and prey; a disruption, one population getting too large or too small, in this balance can be detrimental. The raccoon population plays an important predator role in many ecosystems. They prey on many types of birds, and if the raccoon population gets to large, this can endanger the bird population. There are many studies that have been done looking at the effects of predator removal. A meta analysis found that removing raccoons from an ecosystem had a large positive effect on the hatching success of birds [1]. Additionally, the post-breeding population sizes were larger in areas where predators had been removed [1]. It is important to note that the goal of conservation is not to remove the raccoon entirely, rather, maintain the population at a level that is sustainable for both the predator and the prey. While these findings mentioned are important, it should also be addressed that the breeding population size does not increase [1]. While it does not appear the complete removal of the predator has a lasting affect on the breeding population, we must consider two other important factors: what happens if the size of the prey population gets much too large and how does prey affect breading habits. A study by Groombridge reported that 31% of the bird species that have become extinct since 1600 have been due to introduced predators [2]. While raccoons have often already been a part of the the ecosystem for centuries, it is true that they are expanding the areas in which they live. We must be cognizant of the consequences that come with expanding populations. A second point to consider is the effects predation has on natural selection. Cote and Sutherland note, that the high rates of mortality associated with predation fo nests can “generate strong selection on reproductive behavior and may affect population sizes [1].” The Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies also reports that raccoons have been trapped to promote the restoration/protection of the sea turtle, least tern, piping plover, and the spiny soft shell turtle [3]. This shows the importance of predator management in the survival of other species. 

 

    A large concern associated with raccoon is rabies. A quick database search about raccoon will bring up many papers related to the control of rabies and its associated costs. Around 34,000 courses of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) are administered per year [4]. This is very costly, and the rate of PEP administration is much higher where the raccoon variant of rabies is prevalent versus where other variants are prevalent [4]. It is the goal of many to eliminate rabies completely. It is estimated that New York would benefit by $27 million dollars if rabies was eliminated [5]. Of course, rabies elimination does not mean elimination of all raccoon, rather, it is the implementation of several methods working together to eliminate the virus. Elmore et al explores oral rabies vaccines, trap-vaccinate-release, and population reductions as mechanisms to reduce rabies. Though population reduction has not been shown to reduce rabies in the long run, it is a crucial part of protection animals and humans when an outbreak arises. The harvest of the raccoons should not be put to waste; rather, it should be used in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. 

 

    Another virus may also pose a large risk to raccoon populations when they get too large. Distemper is a virus that causes “anorexia, fever, respiratory infection, neurologic complications, and death in raccoons [6].” It is clear that this virus causes great suffering to the animals that get it. It is much more humane to harvest the animal rather than let it go through the agonizing disease that ultimately leads to death. It is also much more humane to control the population so that the disease does not spread rampantly thought the ecosystem. 

 

    Though the economic impact to farmers is less than that caused by other species, raccoon do destroy crops and become a nuisance in livestock barns. Aaron Anderson et al. examines how the removal of raccoon to save other species provides a “spillover benefit” to farmers [7]. The Anderson study found that trapping saved an average of $10.75/ha in 2013 [7]. Though prices vary, the regulated harvest of raccoon certainly provides a benefit to the farmer. Raccoons may also need to be removed from a farm when they become pests in barns and sheds. They eat the animal food and defecate in the barn causing a hazard for the farmer. Raccoon feces may harbor a parasite that causes severe headache and even death [8]. This risk is not limited to farms, but also to those living in areas with large populations of raccoon. The raccoon may find its way into a garage, a shed, or even a chimney. While it is important that humans live alongside wildlife, there are instances in which it becomes necessary to remove the animal. 

 

    The culture surrounding the harvest of raccoon dates back centuries. Indigenous people have harvested animals for thousands of years using them for clothing, tools, bedding, and food. When European settlers came to North America, they too harvested animals, recognizing their value.  Perhaps the most recognizable use of the raccoon is the “raccoon skin cap.” Today, raccoon pelts are used in many types of garments, and continue to play a culturally significant role for those who harvest them. Trappers across North America continue to harvest raccoons. They do so in a manner that shows appreciation for both the animal they are pursuing and the land they are on. Trappers are held to the highest standard by government regulations and the trappers themselves, as the sport’s fundamental goal is to respect the harvest. Trappers utilize the value of the raccoon as a supplemental income and as a way to bond with family and friends that take part in the sport. 

 

    In conclusion, the raccoon is a very important part of ecosystems and economies. While the raccoon can cause economic destruction, harm bird populations, and harbor rabies, it also interacts positively in many systems and provides value to those who harvest it. It is of the utmost importance to manage the raccoon population at a sustainable level. When populations do grow too large action must be taken to harvest the raccoon. This surplus should be used in a way that is respectful to the environment. Utilizing the fur shows appreciation for the place it came from as well as provides environmentally friendly alternatives to the micro-plastics often used in garments. There are also cultures in North America that consume the meat of the Raccoon. The pelt is a bi-product of this consumption and should be utilized. In short, the use of the raccoon has been important for centuries, and is here to stay. 

 

 

  1. Cote I.M., and Sutherland W.J. The Effectiveness of Removing Predators to Protect Bird Populations. Conservation Biology 1997;11(2):395-405

  2. Groombridge B. Global biodiverstiy: status of the Earth’s living resuoruces. Chapman and Hall 1992.

  3. Furbearer Management in the Northeast. Northeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. 2020

  4. Anderson A., Gebhardt K., Cross W.T., Shwiff S.A. Spillover Benefits of Wildlife Management to Support Pheasant Populations. Wildlife Society Bulletin 2013;37(2):278-280

  5. Elser J.L., Bigler L.L, Anderson A.M., Maki J.L., Lein D.H., Shwiff Sa.A. The economics of a successful raccoon rabies elimination program on Long Island, New York. PLOS Negl Trop Dis. 2016;10

  6. Wostenberg D.J., Walker N., Fox K.A., Spraker T.R., Piaggio A.J., Gilbert A. Evidence of two circulating canine distemper virus strains on meso-carnivores from northern Colorado, USA. Journal of Wildlife Diseasesl 2018;54(3):534-543

  7. Elmore S.A., Chipman R.B., Slate D., Huyvaert K.P., VerCauteren K.C., Gilbert A.T. Management and modeling approaches for controlling raccoon rabies: The road to elimination. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases 2017;

  8. Ogdee J.L., Henke S.E., Wester D.B. Lack of human awareness and the need for increased public education regarding the zoonotic parasite, Baylisascaris procyonis. Human-Wildlife Interactions 2016;10(2)