SCORES & OUTDOORS: Raccoons back in the news…for the wrong reasons

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

A raccoon “washing” its food…

Raccoons and rabies have been in the news again, recently. It seems there has been a measurable increase in the number of reports of animal bites resulting in humans being treated for rabies.

A recent news report from WMTW-TV told of a woman who was attacked by a raccoon while walking along a wooded trail near her home in Hope. The raccoon managed to bite her on the thumb and scratch her arms while she drowned it in a nearby puddle. Hope Animal Control Officer Heidi Blood confirmed last week that the dead raccoon later tested positive for rabies by the Maine Center for Disease Control.

“Not to scare people,” Blood said, “but when there’s one, there’s typically another.”

She went on to say that just because there was one, and it was dispatched, doesn’t mean the risk is reduced. The risk is still there.

As early as last Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that the state of Maine has started dropping packets of vaccine into rural woods in efforts to eliminate raccoon rabies. The program is being funded in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s help, releasing 351,000 packets in northern Maine.

So far this year, 42 cases of oral rabies have been reported in 13 out of the 16 Maine counties. These also include incidences of people being bitten by rabid bats, raccoons, striped skunks, gray foxes, otters, domestic cats and woodchucks. And recently, police reported three individials were bitten by rabid red fox in Brunswick.

Rabies have been rare among pets and farm animals, but since its reintroduction in Maine in 1994, terrestial rabies has increased dramatically in Maine in the above mentioned animals. The last reported case of human rabies in Maine was in 1937.

When bitten by any wild animals, and rabies may be suspected, it is important to get to an emergency room as soon as possible. Humans can start to show symptoms within a few weeks, but often if takes a few months. According to Blood, “The number one thing we try to remind people of is that it’s 100 percent fatal if it goes untreated.”

…but they can also be vicious.

The woman in Hope has received six innoculations of rabies vaccine since the incident and is scheduled for her last shot this weekend.

Don’t believe the myth that raccoons are clean animals because they wash their food before eating. Their name actually comes from that tale. Its scientific name is, Procyon lotor. Lotor is the Latin word for “washer.” The fact is that raccoon have very narrow throats making it difficult to ingest foods. When they encounter food that is dry, they dip it in water to soften it so as to make it easier to swallow. They sometime will remove unwanted parts of the food with their front paws, giving the appearance of washing the morsel. Should a raccoon come across a mushy piece of fruit, it will gulp it down without dipping it in water.

Zoologist Clinton Hart Merriam described raccoons as “clever beasts,” and that “in certain directions their cunning surpasses that of the fox.” In a study by H. B. Davis in 1908, raccoons were able to open 11 of 13 complex locks in fewer than 10 tries and had no problems repeating the action when the locks were rearranged or turned upside down. Davis concluded they understood the abstract principles of the locking mechanisms.

Raccoons have also been part of the mythologies of the indigenous peoples of North America. Indigenous North American belief systems include many sacred narratives. Such spiritual stories are deeply based in nature and are rich with the symbolism of seasons, weather, plants, animals, earth, water, sky and fire. Traditional worship pracrices are often a part of tribal gatherings with dance, rhythm, songs and trance (e.g. the rain dance).

With their bandit-like black mask rings around their eyes, they are cute, especially the young. But never approach a raccoon, even if it is acting normally. Also, as a general rule of safety, never approach an animal in the wild, period. Remember, even though some people believe that any animal can be a pet, they are still animals, with very sharp survival instincts, and could view you as a threat. Stay sway from them. If they are acting irrationally, leave them, and contact your animal control officer of the warden’s service. Take the safe way.

Roland’s trivia question of the week:

What is the recorded score of a forfeited baseball game?

Answer can be found here.


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