One of the greatest joys for a wildlife animal rehabilator is the successful reunion of a mother and her babies. Lots of books have been written about living in peace with the local wildlife. Even how to foster an environment to encourage wildlife without having them wreck YOUR home and eating all of your landscaping.
However, little has been written about how to get the local wildlife out of your house once they have moved in or what to do with a separated youngster.
The original call came in about 8 a.m. The condensed version was: “Two raccoons, a very small one and a slightly larger one had fallen though the suspended ceiling of the “basement” and that there was at least one more still “up there”, what am I supposed to do?” They had already called Animal Control and were now afraid that the animals would be destroyed.
Luckily for them AND the raccoons, Friendswood Animal Control works closely with the Wildlife Center of Texas. I told them not to worry and to accept the live trap that was on the way. Trapping and relocating an adult raccoon is a death sentence, only 10% will survive the next 6 months. If the raccoon is a female with babies, it is often a death sentence for them as well. Needless to say, relocation was not in the cards for this coon family.
The next call went like this; “We caught the smaller of the two and put it in a cat carrier, now what?” Hoping that the live trap would catch the mother, who was still thought to be in the office, I sent them off to buy the supplies necessary to close up the spot where the raccoon had gained entrance. Nothing short of welded wire and nice long screws will foil a determined raccoon.
The next call was slightly panicked, something was still in the ceiling, but the trap was empty and the larger of the two coons was missing. They couldn’t imagine how she could have gotten back into the ceiling. Where could she possibly be? They might not have been able to imagine it, but I could. These guys spend large portions of each day in the trees, they may look clumsy, but are in fact excellent climbers.
They were also very concerned that the captured baby was suffering from hunger, dehydration or injured – could they bring it to me? Because it is very hard for people unfamiliar with the development of raccoons to gauge the age or weight, and because once the eyes are open and the baby is walking in a coordinated manner it is hard for me to figure it out from descriptions, I told them to bring it right over.
Mother and son arrived with a soft-sided cat carrier stuffed with towels, the “little baby” hiding within. Since raccoons can inflict serious damage after about 5 or 6 weeks of age, I donned my leather gloves and began to pick through the nest of towels looking for a gray bundle of fur. As I teased out the last of the towels, I was greeted by a burst of gray fur and vocalizations that would make a B-grade movie monster proud. Needless to say, mother and son were shocked by the apparent violence.
Unfazed, I removed the leather gloves and donned gauntlets before delving into the cat carrier again. A healthy scrapping nine to ten-week old male emerged – twisting and turning, hissing, spitting, clawing, growling and screaming. In short, he made the first encounter look like a love-fest.
By now the mother and her son’s eyes are as big as saucers and they were wondering whether I was killing the baby or whether the baby was going to kill me. Smiling, I began the process of evaluating the baby’s physical condition. Pronouncing the baby healthy, I sent them home with the baby in an airline carrier.
Raccoons are awesome mothers. Baby coons (up to five or six months of age) stay close to her on excursions. They will remain in close proximity and under her protection for almost a year. When Mommy isn’t nearby, babies stick close to each other. The plan was to place the carrier in the shade to attract Mommy Coon. I figured that Mommy Coon would retrieve the other baby from the ceiling and hang close until this baby was released from the carrier.
The next phone call informed me that they thought that the weather was too hot for the baby and they had placed it in the office / storeroom. They promised to place it outside again at dusk.
The next call came at dusk, they had gone downstairs (the living area of the home is elevated above a poured concrete “basement”) to find the second baby sitting on top of the carrier. They were proud to report a successful “round-up”. Both babies were now on the deck near the birdfeeder from which they had in the past observed Mommy Coon foraging.
The next call came an hour or so later, Mommy Coon showed up and talked to her babies. They were very concerned that Mommy Coon had not returned after they went outside to open the kennel. I told them “not to worry”, I could guarantee that Mommy could see them, even if they could not see her.
The final call came the next day. The reunion was a “Hallmark moment” The cautious Mommy took an agonizingly long time talking to her babies and slowly creeping up on the carrier. Then the babies took their own sweet time exiting the carrier. However, once out, they tumbled with each other and Mommy. Mommy “hugged” each baby before turning her intellect towards how to get both babies off of the second floor deck, preferably in one trip. A comedy of errors ensued before she successfully carried the smaller of the two down the nearby tree while the larger followed close behind.
Make sure your local animal control knows about the Wildlife Center of Texas. Inform them about the ten-percent survival rate of relocated adult raccoons. The Wildlife Center of Texas have volunteers who are eager to talk to homeowners BEFORE they live-trap.
It may take some patience, but Mommy Coons can be encouraged to relocate themselves AND their babies.