Tips For Peaceful Cohabitation with Urban Wild Animals and Humane Solutions to Nuisance Problems, Primarily the Raccoon
Austin has a very large Raccoon population; some people will call an exterminator when the raccoons make a home in their attic. You can guess what the exterminator does. Another service the foundation offers is humane animal removal & relocation.
Wild animals are all around us. As man further encroaches into wild habitats with more homes and commercial developments, our wild neighbors adapt right along with these changes to their environment. Thus the potential for man/wild-animal interaction increases. Raccoons, perhaps more than any other wild animal living in close proximity to human habitation, are likely to cause real or perceived problems for people.
The emphasis is on "perceived" because many city dwellers are so surprised and disturbed to encounter a raccoon, opossum, skunk,deer or any wild animal near their home or habitat, that they simply assume that the animal does not belong in "their" yard. People are often unaware of the great variety of wildlife living near us, especially the nocturnal creatures rarely seen by those with a "normal" daytime schedule. Often, just making people aware of the nature and habits of various species of wildlife can solve the problem --reassuring them that nothing is necessarily "wrong" when they see a raccoon crossing their yard at night. Coping with wildlife problems in an area growing as rapidly as Austin/Central Texas requires a degree of tolerance and sometimes a healthy dose of patience.
Behavioral ConsiderationsMost raccoons are looking for one of two things: either some form of sustenance, like food or water, or a home.
Troubleshooting:Urban wildlife has set up housekeeping. What to do.
Don't panic. Try thinking and planning ahead. Look to see how many raccoons, opossums, squirrels, etc you think there may be and where their den is and where they got in. What hours do they keep as they go about their daily and nightly affairs. Is the intruder a mother with babies? Exclusion techniques should be implemented but DO NOT sealed off the access point until you are absolutely certain that ALL ANIMALS are out of the space to be closed off. If young are present, try to encourage folks/be patient yourself to wait until they are old enough for their mother to walk them out on their own and then secure the entry points. Otherwise, the young will likely starve to death and you will have other unpleasant problems to solve.
Attics and crawl spaces.
Usually, raccoons look for warm, safe and dry areas to nest and have their babies. If you think you
might have raccoons nesting in your attic, first, determine if they are actually raccoons. When is the noise heard? If it is at night, from dusk on, or very early in the morning before daylight, and the sounds are very loud, it is probably raccoons. Be aware, though, that even small rodents can create a lot of noise so it is important to be certain about the species.
Remember, a raccoon mother about to bear young will generally scout out 2 nest sites. Thus, if you discover it is a raccoon mother with young, and if you have the patience and tolerance to wait it out, they will eventually move on of their own accord to the second nesting site.
If a wild animal has gained entrance to a crawl space or attic, try to ascertain where all the entry points might be and close off all but one. To determine which hole is being used as a point of entry or exit, cover all holes with a piece of plastic or stuff a rag or ball of paper into it. If it is gone the next day, the hole is being used. Flour or corn starch (or white lime, which will not be as likely to
attract ants or even raccoons because of its food value) can be sprinkled around the area to help discover the number of animals using the space (i.e.; dusting for footprints/quantity), if it's a mother with babies, or even if it is ,indeed, a Raccoon.
Raccoons have an easily identifiable footprint that looks much like a small human hand. Once the entry point has been positively identified, the animals must be encouraged to leave and must be positively gone before closing off of the space is attempted. Ammonia-soaked rags in cloth
bags can be inserted into crawl spaces or attics. Raccoons have a very sensitive nose and the pungent odor will be unpleasant to them. Replenish the ammonia daily and be aware that ammonia can be toxic to children and animals, so be careful to contain it. This technique is not recommended if you suspect there are babies present ,as the fumes can be deadly to them. An alternative is to use moth bolls contained in nylon stockings. This way they can be hung in/over access points but the animals cannot ingest them or simply push them away. Both these “odor” methods work best in smaller or enclosed areas. Another method is to brightly light the suspect area by using a mechanic's
drop light taped to a pole or board and sliding it into the space. Because raccoons are nocturnal, they will be annoyed if their dark nesting space is suddenly brightly lit. One could also place a loud radio in the space creating a “sound” irritant” but this may not be feasible in a crowded urban area, like a duplex or apartment since neighbors are as capable of being annoyed by loud noise as raccoons! Again, please be certain that your raccoon tenant is not a mother with babies too young to leave
with her and if at all possible, wait until the cubs are old enough to do so.
If you have done your homework, have your materials ready and are paying attention, you can do your repairs when she and the babies leave for the night. You must be certain that mother and babies are out before implementing repairs.
Be aware that aside from the obvious cruelty of allowing any animal to starve to death, you will create many, many serious problems for yourself if animals die inside your dwelling. There is absolutely no quick, easy, cheap or foolproof way of eliminating the odor of a dead animal decomposing in a wall or attic. While nature takes its course, you may have to move out.
Raccoons in chimneys.
All chimneys should be capped to prevent entry by wild birds and mammals. The average cost of capping a chimney is far less than the average cost of removing trapped wildlife. Chimney caps also prevent sparks from leaving the chimney, and are therefore a safety device as well. If a raccoon has set up residence in your chimney, first close fireplace doors or erect a barrier so the raccoon will not
exit into the house. If there is a concern that the animal is trapped, a rope can be hung down the chimney to facilitate climbing out. It should be fairly thick and knotted. You can also use several sheets tied together .Weight down the sheet or rope with a heavy object so it will easily go down the chimney. Anchor the sheet or rope at the top of the chimney. The animal should then be able to climb out. A long tree branch or board might work as well. Use the moth ball, lights and sound irritants mentioned earlier to encourage the animal to leave. Never start a fire to smoke animals out of a chimney. Information about babies being present applies here as well. Chances are you are not going to need/use the fireplace again for a while so a little patience can go along way in this situation.
Securing refuse: Making an animal-proof garbage can
One of the most effective and humane solutions for coping with our wild neighbors is to secure your garbage so that you do not attract and feed wildlife. Garbage cans are to raccoons and opossums what bird feeders are to cardinals and doves.
When you adapt your garbage can, remember that wild animals are intelligent and agile, but they are not stronger than a human. If you cannot pull the cover away barehanded, you will have defeated any effort made by animals to gain entry. Your garbage can should have a lid that fits tightly. If this isn't possible, you might try hooking a bungee cord from one side of the can to the other to secure the lid. Or you could try placing a large rock on top of the lid to secure it. Usually raccoons gain entry into garbage cans by tipping them over. For this reason it helps to have the cans stored in racks, garages, or sheds, or tied in an upright position. Put your garbage out the morning of pick-up instead of in the evening. Most native wildlife are nocturnal and thus usually feed at night. If you live near a restaurant, ask the manager to ensure that the refuse bin lid is closed nightly and leave them a copy of this brochure.
Raccoons in pet doors
Use pet doors at your own risk. Raccoons are not the only animals likely to accept the invitation of a pet door. Skunks, opossums and feral cats are a few of the other unwanted visitors that you may meet while getting that glass of water at 3 a.m. There are pet doors on the market now that require an animal to wear a special collar, which triggers the door for that animal only. These are worth looking into. They don't appear to be much more expensive than the plain vanilla variety. If you
must have a pet door, be sure to keep it locked at night.
Raccoons in yards or on porches
Raccoons and other wildlife are much like humans in that they are always on the lookout for better food and shelter. If you or your neighbors feed pets outside, a raccoon has no way of knowing that those kibbles are not intended for him. If you must feed animals outside, be sure to take the food in at night and to keep feed bins tightly closed or locked (see trash cans above). Remember that
patience is a requirement here too. If a raccoon is used to finding food on your property he now
thinks of it as his property and it may take more than a day or two for him to get the message even after you take the food up. You might try to discourage a visiting raccoon that seems particularly persistent by dousing it with a water hose or bucket of water.
Raccoons raiding ornamental ponds and aviaries
This one is tough, since fish, crawdads, small birds, their eggs and bird seed are all favorite natural foods for raccoons. Some things to try for ponds: hardware cloth covering the pond –it is not stable and a raccoon probably will not try to walk on it. If possible, attach a two- foot roll of hardware cloth horizontally just under the waterline -too wide for the coon to reach over and too unstable to walk on. Here is another use for cayenne pepper- try sprinkling it around the edges of the pond or aviary. . Cayenne pepper at 90,000 heat units can be obtained from Whole Foods or Sun Harvest. Sprinkle the pepper generously in areas that the animal has been seen coming and going. Be sure to wear rubber gloves and do not inhale the dust. The wild animals cannot tolerate the presence of the pepper and they will vacate the area. Note that pets and children should not have access to the pepper! It can be washed away with water or by the rain.
It is best to have outdoor aviaries enclosed or secured with hardware cloth, if possible. For persistent, seemingly unsolvable problems here, consider a single-strand electric fence. It will not cause the raccoon serious damage, but will shock them unpleasantly. It is relatively inexpensive and simple to erect. You'll need an approved fence charger with alternating current not exceeding 12 volts
that can be purchased at feed stores. Ask for advice from hardware or feed stores where you purchase it. Also consider protecting the fish in your pond by staking cinder blocks (the kind with holes) next to one another in groups of three or four and piling rocks in the center of your pond so that
shelters are created. Ponds should be at least 3 feet deep in that spot for shelters to be effective.
Be aware, however, that a pond, just like a swimming pool, is a magnet for neighborhood children and should be fenced in a way that prevents children as well as wildlife from getting in and, in the case of electric fencing, prevents children from getting shocked.
Raccoons digging in gardens or yards
Cayenne pepper can work here too -sprinkle lawns and around planters. Control grubs and other kinds of larvae to keep raccoons from digging for them in the first place. There is an organic product called Grub Attack that reportedly works, ask for it at local nurseries. A recent discovery is the use of Coyote urine. It is sold in a powdered form and is designed to be reconstituted and used in a sprayer. Spray the perimeter of your yard or fence line to deter a number of animal visitors, but be aware it is usually most effective in areas where wildlife will have previously encountered and recognize the smell of this higher predator.
How to secure your homeIt is natural for wildlife to seek shelter. Caves, hollow logs, and large abandoned bird's nests suffice in the wild, but in the city the substitutes are attics, crawl spaces or chimneys for the same purpose. Animals are intelligent, but they should not be expected to know that they are “trespassing”. After securing these areas, pay close attention during the day as well as at night, for any sounds of scratching or whining. This would indicate that an animal has been trapped inside and you will need to immediately give the animal an exit.
Keep in mind that raccoons can enter a hole as small as 2 X 2 X 4 inches. If they can get their head through, the body will follow. Raccoons usually gain access to an attic through vents on the roof.
Mushroom vents are especially vulnerable as they have a large opening under the cap that is covered only by insect screening. If raccoons find a roof support post underneath the vent to serve as a ladder, it will soon become a popular daybed site. From the ground, these vents will usually look somewhat deformed as a result of them squeezing through. These vents can be secured once you are sure there are no adults or babies still in the attic. Hardware cloth is flexible enough to bend to the proper shape and is strong enough to do the job in this case. It must be secured with sheet metal screws and fender washers (ask at the hardware store).
Soffit vents at intersecting roof lines can also be pulled down by raccoons to gain entry and can be secured by hardware cloth with wood screws and fender washers. Crawl space vents sometimes require masonry screws be substituted to attach to the underpinning. Holes at other locations should be repaired with substantial materials – galvanized sheet metal can be screwed over holes at ground level that have been habitual entry points for raccoons, but normal siding repairs usually suffice.
Once the animals have leftOnce you are sure that all animals have left, another future preventative measure is to douse the area with bleach, or dust with naphtha flakes (the active ingredient in mothballs) to change the smell of the area. This is usually most feasible in attic and crawl space areas but not recommended for open areas or places where people and pets traverse.
Check your home.
Check porches, decks, sheds and garages for holes or weak areas and securely seal them off. If on a pier and beam foundation, make sure the skirting around it and the under house crawl space access are securely sealed off and latched down. Raccoons and other animals will often gain access to the attic from under the house, or, if they feel secure enough, they'll just nest under there. Keep garage and shed doors shut at night. If an animal goes into a garage or shed, simply leave the door open for a few hours after dark and he or she will leave.
Raccoons and other wildlife may gain entry to your roof via trees or branches that extend to your roof or slightly above it, remember they can jump short distances. Trim tree branches back from the roof area and remove trellises, vines or anything giving animals access to your roof. Use 2-foot wide
sheet metal to wrap tree trunks, positioning it 2 feet above the ground so that animals cannot jump up and over it to climb the tree. You can attach it with springs so that as the tree grows, it is not damaged by the sheet metal.
Install bright yard lights.
Once repairs have been made, consider techniques for discouraging animals from visiting your home by keeping your yard brightly lit at night. Use a minimum of a 100-watt bulb for every 15 square yards of yard space to discourage nocturnal animals You might consider motion sensor lights or a product called Critter Gitter, which is sold at Petco.. It's a battery-operated motion sensor light and alarm system on a stand that can be angled downward so that it is not set off by someone walking by.
It turns off automatically and recycles itself each time to a different combination of lights and alarms so the animal doesn't become habituated to it. It is fairly expensive, I think around $100, but for a serious problem, it is probably cheaper than dealing with possible/continued damage to a
dwelling should the problem continue unabated
When not to live trap.
Live trapping of raccoons (or any wild animal) is considered an absolute last resort. Of the many problems caused by trapping and relocating, the most serious for the animal is that studies are showing that more than half of animals relocated to other areas are not surviving. Many folks will take trapped animals from “the city” out to “the country”. These animals are accustomed to urban food sources like trash receptacles and left out pet food and do not know how, what or where to find food in their new environment. Plus, they are probably being dumped into another animal's territory and will have to fight or find their own turf in the process. Relocating can also spread disease to other populations of animals. Texas Department of Health mandates that all animals should be relocated within ten (10) miles of where they were found and within the same county. Live traps are also responsible for injuries to animals when they panic and try to escape, and death for animals left too long in traps in extreme temperatures. Imagine the heat in an attic in Texas in mid-July
Trapping is especially discouraged during “baby season.”
Most species of native wildlife have their young from early spring (March) to early fall (September - October). During this period there may be babies who are entirely dependent upon their mother for food and protection. Any action that prevents the mother from caring for her young will result in suffering for her and a slow death for the babies. Since the family will not stay forever, or even for a very long time (a month or two, perhaps less), it is better to wait until the family vacates and then take action that will prevent the same thing from happening again. Be aware that live trapping and relocating any wild animal only creates a vacancy for more to move in. You will never trap all the animals and quite possibly, not even the offending animal. Preventative measures, exclusion methods and some degree of tolerance are ultimately more successful and lasting.
Rabies and other health concernsA primary concern of human/raccoon interactions is fear of transmission of rabies. Texas Dept. of Health records will indicate the majority of the animals that have recently tested positive in Travis County have been bats and feral cats. When in doubt, we err on the side of caution and discourage any type of contact with wildlife, which could result in exposure shots for the individual and death for the animal. Many people still do not realize the only method of testing the animal is through euthanasia and removal of the head. For this reason, it is important to teach children not to approach any wild animal and to take domestic animals in at night if possible. Raccoons are not generally dangerous to people or pets, although they might attack dogs if cornered. Cats generally are not
bothered, but kittens, if out at night, could be seen by raccoons as prey. Raccoons during mating season and mothers with cubs will be more aggressive.
Also, opossums are not mammals but marsupials. They have the ability to contract/house the virus but documented cases are extremely rare.
Distemper vs. rabies. These 2 viruses both attack the central nervous system and have some symptoms that appear similar. Rabies is transmitted through blood/saliva contact. Distemper is an airborne virus. Distemper symptoms include heavy mucus production in the nose and/or eyes. Seizure activity like grimacing and chewing. Loss of fear response to humans and other “enemies” like cars, dogs etc. and being out in the open during peak daylight hours. Wobbling, falling over, inability to stand or use back legs or climb. It is not transmissible to humans. It is a good reason to keep pets current on their vaccines. Raccoons get both feline and canine diseases like parvo and distemper. They can also contract chlamydia, usually through eating infected birds. Do not be too quick to diagnose behaviors/conditions as distemper. It is best to always refer these types of calls to an experienced rehabber.
The raccoon roundworm is also a potentially serious health problem for humans. The larval stage of this parasite can cause extensive internal damage but ingestion of raccoon feces is usually necessary for infestation, so it's not terribly likely for the average citizen to contract them. Children,however, with their habits of putting things into their mouths, are at higher risk for this problem.
Epilogue:Living with urban wildlife.
Wild animals explore, sniff, and climb about in a variety of places, from remote forest and desert habitat to the noisy, flashing, hard-edged confines of bustling cities. They are opportunists who may dine on such natural fare as frogs, crayfish, rats, mice, roaches, birds' eggs and wild fruit. But they are also content to enjoy a delectable dinner scrounged from the rich variety of garbage found in city and suburban settings. In fact, the city is not Garden of Eden for wild animals. Their natural desire to dine upon what is available and to take up housing that, at first look and sniff, may seem quite suitable can earn them the wrath of humans who unintentionally provide the food and housing in the first place. Wildlife can't cause problems unless people allow them to do so. Instead of blaming them we should work together to find solutions satisfactory to both humans and wildlife.
Many raccoons, squirrels, and birds are orphaned when the tree in which their nest is located is removed. Please do not cut down a tree or demolish an abandoned building in the spring or early summer, until you are sure that it contains no nesting raccoons or any other wildlife.
If you do find an orphaned baby wild animal, call your local wildlife rescue organization or parks and wildlife department. In many cases, you may be advised to leave the animal outside near the area that you found it, preferably in a hollow tree trunk or in a cardboard box with warm bedding. Make sure it is safe from inclement weather and potential predators. Observe the animal for 24 hours. When you are positive that there is no mother to care for the baby, call your local game warden, parks and wildlife department or wildlife rescue organization again. Remember that a mother animal is best equipped to care for her young, not a human substitute. Even if turned over to rehabilitators, wild babies never do as well with us as they do with their mother, and overloaded rehabilitators do not always raise raccoons that are ultimately successful when released into the wild.
It is important to re-emphasize the notion of tolerance and patience when dealing with our wild neighbors. Guy Hodge of the Humane Society of the United States said, "You don't always have to find the perfect remedy. It is ironic that rehabilitators and commercial pest control operators are sometimes held to a different standard than we seemingly would apply in any other walk of life. Somebody calls you and you offer them a remedy, and they say yeah, but that won't work all the time, or they say, one of the squirrels is going to get through that. Well, you're going to have to accept some measure of loss, there is nothing in this world that is perfect. How many of you have ever bought a car that has never, ever broken down or had a mechanical problem. They don't expect that of a car company, they expect it of you, even though they won't spend more than $5 to provide a remedy to that problem. We can't provide the perfect remedy, because they won't provide $2000 to install it. But you can provide remedies that are going to reduce the problem to tolerable levels."
From Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife
"Greater compassion comes from greater understanding. We have seen the gap between us and other living things shrink to a point where arguments promoting human superiority rarely (if ever) fit in any system of logic. The great uncertainty is what will happen with technology. Undoubtedly humanity's strongest suit, it could become a very potent weapon in the hands of those who seek to resolve human-wildlife conflicts by destroying rather than by understanding it. If we do not teach ourselves and teach our children what it means to be a member of a community of living things, then our technology will be used to destroy.
Education, the weight that balances all of technology's advances, must be used to foster understanding, respect and compassion. To this end, we all have to be teachers--and students."
Sources:The California Center for Wildlife with Diana Landau and Shelley Stump 1994. Living With Wildlife: Sierra Club Books. 341 pp.
John Hadidian, Guy R. Hodge and John W. Grandy, eds. The Humane Society of the United States 1997
Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife; Fulcrum Publishing. 253 pp.