While theoretically native to Thunder Bay and area, the arrival of raccoons is a relatively recent thing, along with the Black Squirrel, the Pileated Woodpecker and our newly-exploding population of White-tailed deer. Our ecosystem is changing, as the Great Lakes – St. Lawrence Forest region slowly pushes the Boreal Forest further north and corresponding animal species are following suit. I’ve seen raccoons in the city for almost five years now, but never one up close and personal. And certainly not under my deck.
Rockette slipped back silently and I walked up the steps, stomping as I went to gage her reaction. I then realized that, unless she was a ventriloquist, there were far too many chittering voices for there to be only one raccoon under that deck.
I was immediately conflicted, for while I am a zoologist and love the proximity of all things wild and free, I also know the damage that can be caused by these adaptable, resourceful creatures. And like a potato chip, you can never have just one raccoon and in this case, it seemed there was already commune being established beneath our feet! Also, with three cats and three dogs in our household, any trans-species confrontation would always end up in the raccoon’s favour, so while I was conflicted, it was a brief battle. I immediately called Natural Pest Control’s Bob Hoffman for a fellow biologist’s take on the situation.
The next evening Bob brought a live trap, assuring me that he knew of places in the region where a family of raccoons could not just survive but thrive. We set up the trap and filled it with corn (to prevent the trapping of cats, skunks or other curious creatures) and waited. Within 2 hours, we had our girl but it was dark and impossible to take the deck apart safely. Also, the next day was a workday and our schedule filled with clients coming and going up those very steps. We covered Rockette’s cage with a blanket, topped up her corn with dog kibble and water and waited for the morning.
The day was long and hot and five o’clock couldn’t come soon enough. Immediately, we disassembled the deck and steps, careful not to disturb the hidden nest. The kits were trilling and hissing but when the last plank was removed, we were treated to the sight of six baby raccoons, cold and hungry, eyes still closed, masks and striped tails clearly visible. I had filled a cat carrier with leaf litter and we gently laid the squirming babies into it, tucking them close to each other as they had been in the nest. After many incredible photos, we closed up the carrier and nestled it next to Rockette in her cage. It wasn’t long before Bob returned, as amazed as we were at the once-in-a-lifetime sight.
He returned later that night to tell us that he’d placed the kits in a makeshift nest out a rural road, and that once he released Rockette, she’d headed straight over to them like a good mother. I’m very happy to think that they’re thriving out in the wild where they were meant to be, but know that this is probably the tip of what will be a growing issue for Thunder Bay residents. With bear, deer and coyotes in growing numbers in the city, moving or removing these animals may not always be the best option. As the dominant species, I think we may need to learn to adapt ourselves and live with our wild neighbours, however tricky, complex or inconvenient it may become.
But for now, mama Rockette is safe, wild and free and I’m going to treasure the memory of holding her kits before placing them next to her in the carrier. It was a bittersweet moment, parting with what had quickly become my babies. The maternal instinct is a powerful force and if Rockette comes back next year however, I might just let her stay.