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Toronto, raccoon capital of the world

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May 5, 2007
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South Parkdale
They are cute, disgusting, generally passive, extremely adaptable and we all have a ton of them. So many, that Toronto is now the raccoon capital of the world.

Producer and director Susan K. Fleming spent seven months following scientists researching raccoon life in the downtown core.

With high-definition, infrared cameras they studied a family of raccoons and discovered that as much we despise the mess they create, we may be our own worst enemy in the fight against the mammals with the masked eyes.

Fleming’s film, airing on CBC’s The Nature of Things at 8 p.m., Feb. 24, asks whether in an effort to outwit raccoons, we are in fact pushing their brain development and altering their future.

Essentially, the more we try to trick them, the harder they work at overcoming those obstacles.

Although their eyesight is weak, they follow their noses and are incredibly skilled with their hands, which have huge receptors.

That would explain why that “animal proof†compost bin lies open with egg shells strewed all over your driveway on garbage days. These animals could probably out-text a teenager.

They are also much fatter than their country cousins, but what would you expect when they eat our garbage? City life has changed raccoons to the point where the film shows them walking past food as if to say, “No thanks I’m stuffed.â€

Country raccoons have to hunt for frogs and rodents while avoiding predators like foxes and coyotes. Consequently, they live a shorter life than the average three-to-five years enjoyed by city dwellers.

But that sedentary lifestyle and poor diet has led to increases in heart disease and diabetes.

“They like living with us and thanks to the vast amounts of food available, they have become less territorial,†said Fleming.

What effect did the garbage strike two years ago have?

“There was a noticeable increase in population, but that was followed by distemper this past summer,†she explained.

The little weasels probably texted their friends out of town to come for a free buffet.

Much to my surprise, raccoons came to North America from the tropics and sub-tropics. Today, in downtown Toronto, there are up to 150 raccoons per square kilometre, mostly in neighbourhoods, not parks.

If you plan on getting rid of them by destroying their homes, don’t bother. Raccoons usually have 10 to 20 homes. Eat your heart out, Madonna.

Should you catch one and take it up to your cottage to release it into the wild, it probably won’t survive. The same thing will happen if you bring one home.

But why would you? Japan did years ago. Thinking they were cute, they imported 1,500 babies from North America, but their feces and urine started rotting structures so now they are banned.

Because they are nocturnal creatures, most of us are unfamiliar with what they do while we sleep.

Raccoon Nation took their cameras down dark alleys, into buildings and high up trees, where dens are filled with kits, then watched as young raccoons negotiated their way down.

Personally I think they wait until we’re asleep and laugh at us from the trees while they scarf down their compost-bin dinners with those thieving little hands.
I'm up for watching that, I love the little bandits!

This reminded me of a night years ago when I lived close to Dundas and Spadina. I was walking home and stumbled upon a scene in a back alley with about a dozen raccoons and stray cats seemingly working together to liberate some trash from a bin. When they heard me they all stopped and stared at me for a second before getting back to the task at hand. It warmed my heart to witness the their collaborative efforts.

I wonder if the doc makes any mention of the Resident Evil movie that was filmed here (the one where the blow up City hall) in which a very recognizable Toronto plays Raccoon City.
I'm wondering if now we don't have dogs roaming the streets, if it helps the raccoon population.
I live by a ravine, in which live foxes.

I have never ever seen a fox attack a raccoon. Rabbits, squirrels, and even baby groundhogs, yes, but so far not a raccoon. I think they're too scared to get anywhere near those big fat Toronto raccoons. They even avoid the little ones, because the massively large mom would rip the foxes to shreds.

P.S. The damn raccoons keep crapping on my balcony, probably because it's partially sheltered there. If I see one I'll yell at it and bang on the wall or whatever to make noise, but it always just looks at me and then proceeds to ignore me. Oh and I had to repair my roof because they got into the habit of pulling up my shingles with their dexterous little paws, probably just because they didn't have anything better to do.
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Don't be deceived by these "cute little rascals", they can be extremely fierce and they'll rip your face off if they are cornered or feel threatened which likely explains why foxes are smart to avoid them. I worked in a cinema in the early 90's where a guy was sitting watching a movie, eating his popcorn and one came up from behind him and bit him on the shoulder. We shut down and hired a company to catch the critter, they eventually did, it was euthanized and it's brain sample got lost on it's way to Ottawa for testing so the poor guy had to get rabies shots. The story hit the media and it got all blown out of proportion. I remember reading one piece in the Toronto Star which stated that there were 3 raccoons to every 1 Toronto resident - that was in 1991.
Raccoon scat can also be very dangerous to dogs and harmful to humans if not handled (removed from your backyard or whatever) using gloves, so be careful if you come across it.
I saw an absolute mammoth raccoon in Grange Park over the summer eating out of a garbage can. He must ingested some steroids, i don't ever remember seeing raccoon's that big in the country.
I used to see raccoons in Cabbagetown all the time, in my backyard, along the fence, etc. Then all of a sudden we haven't seen any in about a year. I asked a friend who's with Animal Control and he said that we're in the midst of a distemper outbreak, which comes and goes every few years and has in past killed off nearly half the raccoons in Toronto. Of course the survivors breed and replace those lost within a year or so. This is why you need your pets vaccinated against distemper.

On another note, do you ever see what appears to be drunken squirrels in your yard? Those animals that can't sit upright, fall backwards when trying to eat or hold a nut? They're not drunk off fermented pumpkins or whatever they've found, but in fact has a brain wasting disease caused by a parasite that drills into their brains and nervous systems.
For quite a while, there was a family of Racoons hanging out around King and Bay. You could often see them roaming around on warm summer nights.

I guess with the arrival of Trump, the area is just to expensive for them.
I'd imagine Raccoon City was the raccoon capital of the world until the T-virus hit.
You forget, but Raccoon City was Toronto.


For quite a while, there was a family of Racoons hanging out around King and Bay. You could often see them roaming around on warm summer nights.

I guess with the arrival of Trump, the area is just to expensive for them.

Looks like Cyril Sneer finally defeated The Raccoons
Not surprising. My neighbour used to actually put a plate of food out every night for the raccoons. She even had one as a pet, named 'Ricky'.
A friend of mine did that. The babies grew very tame and would eat out of his hands, while the mom would watch from a distance.
I've seen racoons in the Harbourfront - and its about the only carcass I have yet to see from the resident fox.