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September 18th, 2014
Eden Smith's Beaches Library Blueprint

Q4. What does the name "Raccoon" mean in Algonquin? (P40)



Toronto's Real Masked Bandits

Love them or love them not so much, we have one of the highest densities of raccoons in the world

By Beth Parker

Every night there is a sighting. A rustle in a tree, a high pitch screech from a back shed, then a dark shadow lumbering across the sidewalk in front of you or knocking over a garbage can. One particularly sunny June morning, a group of us were gathered to watch the finals of a baseball game when we were "showered" by a raccoon going about his morning toilet. But love them or love them not so much, raccoons are here to stay. In fact, as their natural habitat in rural areas shrink, raccoon populations are now actually the densest in suburban and urban areas. The truth is, they like it here!

In the Beaches, raccoons have adapted extremely well to city life. Just imagine their daily routine. Night or day, they roam freely in our abundance of parks and ravines, just like their cousins up north! But when they need a warm, safe place to stay at night, they crawl into an attic or shed; wash and play in a nearby heated pool or hot tub; and snack whenever they are hungry simply by opening up the nearest garbage can or stealing organic vegetables from a community garden!

Why Toronto

It is no wonder that we witness raccoon mischief every night. It is estimated that there are more than 16 raccoons per square kilometre in Toronto. That means over 10,000 raccoons in our city. Extremely adaptable and with few predators except automobiles, our city raccoons actually grow bigger and stronger living among us. One of the reasons that city raccoons are so large (some would say "fat") is that they don’t have to travel far to find food and their diets are fattening (because they are eating what we are eating!)

Some people are alarmed when they see raccoons awake during the day, but this is unnecessary unless the animal appears sick. Although mostly nocturnal, a determined female will look for food in daylight hours especially if she is feeding a family. Although in the wild, raccoons make their homes in tree hollows, logs, or rocky caverns, in urban areas, they nest in drainpipes, basements, crawl spaces, house attics and even the smoke shelf in your uncapped chimneys.

"He who scratches with his hands"

Raccoons are known by their amazing ability to use their paws as hands. They "wash" their hands in water prior to eating and are extremely good at manipulating latches and doorways, even turning doorknobs and handles. Native Algonquin tribes were the ones who gave the Raccoon its name – "raccoon" comes from the Algonquin word arakun, which means "he who scratches with his hands".

Contrary to previous speculation, however, raccoons are not actually concerned with washing their food. They "dip" what they find to eat in water because they are mimicking fishing for their meal, a normal behaviour for them in the wild.

Raccoons evolved from a species that existed before the dog family. They are very intelligent and their curiosity makes them fairly social. Raccoons may appear bold but usually are not aggressive except during mating season or when defending their young. When necessary, however, their strength, teeth, and claws equip them to defend themselves effectively. Raccoons have keen senses of smell and hearing, and are very agile. They can quickly climb trees, fences, and even the occasional high rise apartment building.

Raccoons and Rabies

Because they are warm blooded mammals, raccoons certainly can carry the rabies virus. This is why all dogs and cats in the city are required by law to be vaccinated and humans are advised never to deliberately approach or try and touch a raccoon. Although "cute" and social, raccoons are wild animals and should be reported to authorities if they appear tame, injured or sick.

Help me with my raccoon problem!

For ideas on how to deter raccoons, visit: toronto.ca/animal_services/raccoon.htm To remove or control raccoons, contact: All About Animals Professional Wildlife Control at 416-264-6257 or AAA Animal & Bird Control Inc at 416-487-9453. Raccoons that show abnormal or sick behaviour should be reported to Toronto Animal Services at 416-338-7297.

Some raccoon myths & facts

Raccoons are definitely a nuisance when it comes to feeding on our garbage but they should never be harmed. They do not mean to cause trouble and there are many steps you can take to discourage them from causing trouble on your property (see www.toronto.ca/ animal_services/raccoon.htm).

Here are some other things to know:

  • Raccoons do not seek out cats to eat but they do occasionally mistake a kitten as prey (so be careful).
  • Raccoons rarely fight with each other (but they do make loud grunting noises that are definitely "unfriendly raccoon words"!)
  • Although not aggressive, a protective raccoon mom can get nasty if she thinks her babies are threatened.
  • A bright light or a radio playing is a safe way to discourage a raccoon from hanging around.
  • Baby raccoons cry like puppies while waiting for dinner
  • Raccoons will dig up your garden if it is infested with grubs. Sometimes cayenne pepper helps deter them.
  • Raccoons at the Toronto Zoo are fed fruits, vegetables and dog chow. So lock up your pet food storage containers. They love the stuff!

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