Raccoons caught be trappers are often released back into Brooklyn

By Kelli Bender
Updated January 05, 2016 03:36 PM

Groups of masked mischief-makers are taking over New York City. Brooklyn neighborhoods are dealing with raccoon squads (some with more than 12 furry members) terrorizing their yards and sidewalks, according to The New York Times.

“They were trashing my grapevine, beating my cat,” Wendy Hooker, who has been removing “wilding” raccoons from her South Park Slope property since August, told the paper. “It was like a frat party. They were insane.”

The number of raccoon-related inquiries to the city’s 311 help line went up from 938 to 1,581 over the past year. Trappers have also noticed a rise in calls regarding raccoons. Unfortunately, in New York, the law dictates that any raccoon caught in the state needs to be humanely killed due to the threat of rabies. But many trappers can’t bring themselves to murder these adorable pests, and they end up releasing the animals in a wooded area in the city instead, even though the N.Y.C. health department says it’s illegal.

N.Y.C. raccoons aren’t interested in a new start in nature; these critters have developed a taste for the city life. Many of the raccoons that are released in wooded areas turn around and head back to the city.

“When you take them and drop them off in a natural environment, they’re going to look for buildings,” Stanley D. Gehrt, a wildlife ecologist at Ohio State University, told the New York Times. “It’s what they’re used to.”

It’s a vicious cycle of good intentions that is only causing New York City’s raccoon problem to spread.

The trapper’s moral dilemma isn’t the only issue contributing to raucous raccoon behavior in Brooklyn; the animals themselves have cunning survival skills. Raccoons are incredibly adaptable, easily changing their habitats and diets to cater to the garbage, homes and lifestyles of humans. The animals also have no natural predators in the area.

While many enjoy seeing photos and videos of the booming raccoon population frolicking through New York, those who have to deal with the reality of living with the pests aren’t pleased. Raccoons, especially pregnant females, can get destructive and defensive, tearing up windows screens, roofs, walls and starting fights with pets and the humans who try to intercede. They also leave behind a lot of poop.

The city does not remove raccoons unless they appear to be dangerous, so Brooklyn residents are left to find a way to remove the animals themselves. Many call trappers to remove raccoons, but with no rescues or facilities open to taking in the animals, trappers unwilling to kill a cute, curious raccoon end up releasing the animals in parks or on beaches, where they wreak havoc on the wildlife and new neighborhoods.

So what can stop the problem? City Council member Brad Lander introduced a bill to establish a wildlife management advisory board that would “recommend policies to preserve and promote biological diversity and the humane treatment of wildlife.” Raccoons included.

Sadly, how to handle the surging raccoon population is a tricky, time-consuming task with no obvious “win” in sight, which means it is an issue often passed over by lawmakers. So, for now, Brooklyn is handling its problem one raccoon at a time.