I have a love/hate relationship with raccoons.
On one hand, they’re undeniably adorable. They’re furry with little Zorro masks and kind of hunker around with big hunchbacks. And they have little tiny hands and scurry around while carrying things! Undeniable.
On the other hand, they are an absolute menace to people living in Toronto. They get into garbage, destroy lawns, and are generally unpleasant to passersby, (unless you’re Subway Raccoon, who seemed to enjoy the train just fine).
Why are raccoons thriving in the city?
Toronto is the raccoon capital of the world, with more than 50 times the raccoon density as in the wild; at any time in the city, you are likely 50 feet from one.
These furry creatures are in a unique situation, in terms of animals living in urban environments. First of all, they’re omnivores, meaning they eat meat—rodents, grubs, and other small animals—as well as fruits and vegetables, like nuts, corn, and fleshy fruits. This means that everything you throw out is fair game, as raccoons are expert scavengers.
There are other animals that excel in cities. Cats, for example, also wander the streets and have an easy time preying on rodents, but lack the raccoon’s dexterity and intelligence.
Raccoons have the ability to deduce, with a brainpower closer to monkeys than to cats or dogs. They’re able to find flaws in trash bins, for example, and continue to pry at that flaw until the trash is freed. They are hard workers, spending hours upon hours opening one bin, returning back to it for up to a week. (So if that bin isn’t completely secure, that raccoon is getting your old KD.)
Those adorable hands I mentioned earlier are perfect for opening garbage bins and stealing away food, even without opposable thumbs.
There is also a theory that cities are making raccoons smarter. The PBS documentary Raccoon Nation suggests that the constant puzzles and trials an urban raccoon must go through are preparing them for further similar trials. Essentially, once a raccoon has figured out how to open a bin, he’ll always know how to open one.
What you can do to fight back against the raccoons
While raccoons like most of what you throw away, they do have general dislikes. If you have a bin that raccoons return to often, consider the following:
- Use strong-smelling repellents, like oil of mustard or ammonia, on or around the bins.
- Install bright, motion-censored lights, aimed at the bins.
- Clean up well after barbecues—raccoons love grease.
- Ensure all garbage bags are sealed tightly, with all odorous items double-bagged.
- Feed pets indoors, and don’t feed any wildlife.
Raccoons are also notorious lawn destroyers. Especially on rainy nights, when grubs and other insects are close to the surface of the soil, raccoons will tear apart the area to have a meal. If you still want real estate in Toronto, here are a few techniques to protect your yard:
- Sprinkle soap flakes on the lawn and water it. Your lawn will be fine but raccoons will be discouraged from digging around and eating what they find.
- If you have a vegetable garden, sprinkle Tabasco on the plants.
- Install bright, motion-censored lights, aimed across the yard.
Also, be aware of the condition of your roof and any openings around your home. Raccoons can get in through chimneys, lose shingles, and under your deck. Be sure everything (as best as possible) is sealed properly. But before you do, be sure all raccoons are actually out of your home. In the spring and summer, babies could be nestled in tight places, so leave sealing to the fall. Contacting a pest expert is also wise.
If you’re unsure as to where a raccoon is entering your house, put a crumbled piece of paper in the opening and check if it’s removed soon after.
Although right now, many of the tips are home remedies and handy tricks, city officials are hinting at some hope, at least in terms of containing garbage. The city is hoping to evaluate new garbage bins this year with increased security against pests, rolling out over 500,000 this fall. The dominant focus is keeping raccoons out and diminishing their population, so the new design should be much better.
One latch, designed by Toronto resident Simon Treadwell, requires opposable thumbs to open—a boundary even brilliant little raccoons can’t work around. He tested the latch to find the raccoons returning every night for five nights to try to get inside, only to give up empty-handed.
As much as I love these little critters, I agree that we are in or nearing a raccoon crisis. Let’s help the raccoons move back to the wilderness, using deterrents and encouraging the city for more raccoon-secure products. Then, we can just visit a couple of them—happy, peaceful, and not covered in garbage—each year at the Toronto Zoo!
Flickr: David Slater