Raccoon populations remain up in the North Country

Three bandit-masked raccoons on the roadway were avoided on just one recent dark night driving back home from a meeting last week.

A number of juvenile ‘coons didn’t fare so well. Their remains were scattered along the roadway; they were just out of their league when facing a car when the driver’s choice was the ditch or the raccoons.

It is good raccoons are not as large as deer or the road kill count could also include many more homo sapiens in the mix.

Counting the number of reflected raccoon eyes seen in the brushy roadsides gave a clue as to their numbers – clearly there’s no shortage of the bandit-faced critters this year.

There is not as much control as in the past because of the lower interest in trapping. Fur prices have been down - many trappers have dropped out and so there is not as much harvesting of the animal as there once was one DNR biologist noted. The recent string of mild winters (not counting the recent, colder and longer winter) also favored raccoon breeding success. As younger raccoons grow and begin to move out to find food and begin to go on their own, so are they face being hit by cars when crossing roads.

Raccoons are primarily nocturnal animals, so road kills tend to be higher at night than daytime. A daytime drive will show the results of ‘coon/car encounters of the past night.

When raccoon populations surge, a crash often follows. Any disease or illness that befalls a raccoon can swiftly be transmitted among others. Mange and distemper are prime diseases that can knock down a population in a given area, but in some areas the dreaded rabies is also a potentially fatal human disease that can occur from a bite by a raccoon or other animal that may have been bitten by a rabid animal.

Raccoons also carry a parasitic worm that can also cause serious problems for humans that handle raccoons. In some case this worm can cause fatal outcome if not identified and treated. It is one of the reasons that state law prohibits people from having raccoons as pets.

There have been confirmed incidents of rabid raccoons reported in the S.E. of the state near the Ohio state line. While no current reports of rabies among raccoons in Northern Michigan are being noted, any raccoon or other wild creature that acts sick, staggers, acts sluggish, or fails to display a normal tendency to run from humans should be avoided.

Pets, especially dogs or cats who are allowed outside, should have up to date rabies and distemper inoculations.

Raccoons are opportunists, and will be attracted to foods, garbage or other edibles that are left out where they can get to them. Tight lids on garbage cans will help keep ‘coons from treating your yard as a cafeteria (though one rascal ‘coon seems to have solved the problem of bungie cords to hold trash barrel lids down tight. This (expletives deleted) particular ‘coon just chewed through them and helped himself to whatever we might have put in the canister.

Raccoons are quick learners. They learn fast how to open the spring lid on a live bait bucket left hanging from your boat for a midnight minnow snack, and have post-graduate degrees in opening cooler lids. Raccoons may be the only species around that can get through that human-frustrating shrink wrap without needing a knife to cut it.

Wily, too smart for their own or your good, the raccoon is a survivor that will be with us for a long time. As long as their populations are up, expect more nighttime encounters on the roadways. Better the ‘coon than the ditch just makes sense when that encounter is of the too-close kind!