Ever since their introduction in the mid 20th century, they are now widely spread in European countries.
Though they have been domesticated, the wild ones still hunt for their food and end up killing each other. As per research, raccoons can easily adapt to any climate and hence there are possibilities of the population expanding to further areas across the globe, shortly.
What are Raccoons?
- This species is native to North America.
- It is a mammal, about 40 cm to 70 cm in size, and may weigh between 5k to 26 kg.
- It has a fur coat and is accustomed to living in cold climates.
- They are nocturnal creatures and survive on an omnivorous diet.
- They are usually found in the wild dense forests but have well adapted themselves in hilly areas, coastal areas, and even urban areas. Some of them have been domesticated too.
History of Raccoons in Europe
They were initially brought to Germany in the 1930s and expanded to Europe by the 1960s. However, there have been traces of the raccoons existing in the Caribbean islands since as early as the 1650s.
In Germany, two pairs of raccoons were released into the wild by a forester in April 1934. It was done upon the request of a farmer who had domesticated the pair. This was done to promote the population of raccoons and in turn enrich the fauna of that area.
After many failed attempts, this was the first successful introduction of raccoons in the lands of Germany.
Another major rise in the raccoon population was seen when twenty-five raccoons escaped a farm in Wolfshagen, a place located to the east of Berlin. This happened in 1945 after an airstrike. This population of raccoons is distinguishable from the first population, they have many different physical attributes.
The rapidly growing Raccoon population
- Germany is overpopulated with Raccoons, and they are slowly expanding their territory to the rest of Europe. Unlike America, European countries see this as a major problem. The population of raccoons grew rapidly in Germany.
- From 285 in 1956, the number of raccoons in Germany became over 20000 by 1970. Reports suggest that by 2008, there were an estimated 200000 to 400000 raccoons in Germany alone. Since raccoons don’t have any natural predators in the wild, their numbers multiply significantly each year.
- Initially, it was a protected species but has been declared a game animal by the government in the 1950s.
Problems Associated with Raccoons
Raccoons were initially brought into Germany from America to boost the fur industry, in the 1920s. Some of the farmers decided to release them into the wild, unaware of the adaptation capabilities.
This gave rise to a rapidly growing population of raccoons all over Germany, which has turned out to be a huge issue in the 21st Century.
- Raccoons are disliked mainly because they wreak havoc in areas, they live in. There has been a considerable downfall in the population of birds and turtles.
- Raccoons eat the eggs of these birds and turtles and destroy their nests. They even destroy human habitat, which naturally irks human beings. The economic damage caused by raccoons is believed to be nearly thirteen billion dollars.
- They are also believed to carry diseases. They transmit these diseases to human beings and animals, resulting in sickness and often death.
Raccoons are hosts to multiple infectious diseases and hence pose threats of health hazards for the globe.
Some of the dangerous diseases that raccoons are known to carry are the West Nile virus and Baylisascaris procyonis, which is commonly known as the raccoon roundworm.
To fight these, extensive research and studies are being carried out to study the health hazards associated with the rapidly growing raccoon population.
- Some consider raccoons to be harmful to the environment and believe they pose threat to small species of birds and with their rapidly growing population, the ecosystem can’t provide for them. However, there has been no concrete evidence to prove the negative effects of raccoons on biodiversity yet.
Raccoons have been existing in America for ages now and have never been a cause of trouble. However, in Europe, they are not as much loved and considered a hassle.
Massive killings of Raccoons
Raccoons are considered a threat in Germany and the rest of Europe and are killed in high numbers. Hunters and poachers freely kill them without much restriction from the government in terms of laws.
- In Germany, about 600000 raccoons are being killed each year. No steps are being taken since they are not considered to be amongst the endangered species, rather they are considered a potential threat to the human population and the rest of the animal lives.
- Often chocolate bait traps are used to lure the raccoons and kill them.
- As per a study in 2012, few experts asked for the eradication of this species from Scotland else it would cause major damage to the Scottish Economy. Such reports further encouraged the killing of the raccoons.
- European countries have thought of rolling out new laws regarding this, to control the excessive growth of raccoons.
- Countries have been asked to restrict the breeding of these animals as much as possible. Permission has been given to eliminate them if spotted in the wild, which is still questionable ethically.
The rate at which raccoons are being killed is as high as the rate of their population growth. An alternative must be sought and applied. Studies are being conducted for the same.
Research has shown that raccoons do show social behavior and there has been a history of them being domesticated, hence encouraging domestication of raccoons can also be an alternative to killing the wild ones.
The government has been taking steps to combat this problem and wildlife authorities are putting in huge efforts to tackle this problem efficiently. However, there and many hassles and plans are being devised keeping in mind that the ecological system of the area is not damaged the biodiversity remains intact.