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Orphaned raccoons at CROW have new space

By Staff | Dec 17, 2014

CROW’s Dr. Heather Barron helps Lynda Scribante cut the ribbon during the opening of the refurbished raccoon shelter at CROW on Sanibel Island. CARIE BEEMAN

Orphaned raccoons now can have the benefit of growing up and learning how to transition back to the wild better, due to the refurbished raccoon shelter at the CROW (Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife) facility on Sanibel Island.

CROW was able to remodel the old raccoon shelter on the property, thanks to the generous donation by Sanibel residents Lynda and A.J. Scribante, who are wildlife and conservative enthusiasts. The Scribantes were more than happy to provide the funds to make the raccoons’ stay at CROW as natural and beneficial as possible.

“So many families come down with children to see nature,” Lynda Scribante said after the ribbon-cutting ceremony opening the new raccoon shelter on Dec. 9. “I’m drawn to all animals. But raccoons are native to the island and I just want people to know they are harmless.

“It’s so magnificent, the animals and the nature here. We need to protect our nature on the island.”

The much-needed improvements to the raccoon shelter will benefit the 200-300 orphans which pass through the CROW’s facility. The job of the staff is to raise the orphaned raccoons in a healthy atmosphere, while preparing them for their release back into the wild.

A group of orphaned raccoons await their entrance inside the new CROW raccoon naturalist shelter, thanks to the donation from Lynda Scribante. CARIE BEEMAN

The old enclosed shelter was not conducive to that goal completely, but with the improvements, it now acts as closely as their original natural habitat as possible.

“The old (shelter) had four plain enclosures, a cement wall and didn’t really provide any enrichment,” said CROW’s Dr. Heather Barron. “We went with more caging (for more privacy), which adds a more natural setting with the shrubbery in which they can climb and hide in when people are around. They also have to work for their food, and it’s not just set out in a bowl.

“The new shelter does not just prevent boredom or stress, but it always teaches them how to survive in the wild.”

The improvements include a new waterfall which flows into a stream, where food is placed for the raccoons to hunt and catch, just like they would in the wild. There also is an extra chamber connected where they can sleep.

“We can close the door, when we feed and clean the cages,” Dr. Barron said. “There isn’t any direct contact with animals. We want to decrease habituation, which is when animals get over the fear of people. Habituation is bad for the animals and bad for people. We want them to be afraid of people.”

A raccoon enjoys a meal inside the new raccoon shelter at CROW. The raccoons have the very minimum contact with humans, with only one plexiglass window to observe the animals, with heavy fence lining the entire shelter. CARIE BEEMAN

Another tool the raccoon shelter has are closed-circuit cameras, which allows visitors of CROW to watch the rambunctious, young raccoons at play in the shelter, safely from inside the visitor center. It also allows staff and Dr. Barron the ability to observe the raccoons, without interacting with them.

The high volume of raccoons brought to CROW are predominately orphaned babies. When they are brought to the facility, they are bottled fed if they are too young to eat on their own and are held inside until they are old enough to have a good enough coat to be transferred outside.

They are vaccinated against rabies and tested/treated for a parasite which affects raccoons.

They will then be transferred to the outdoor shelter, where there is little to no human contact to prevent habituation. After a few week stay in the new outdoor shelter, and after observation to see if they are ready for the wild, they are set for release.

“We try and release where they came from,” Dr. Barron said. “There is a law which states they have to be released on a minimum of 40 acres, with the landowner’s permission. That’s what we need the most desperately, landowners who will allow us to release raccoons on their land.

“It’s one of the hardest challenges we face.”

There are plenty of myths about raccoons which displays them in an unsavory light, including the concern that they often carry rabies, are dumpster divers and are aggressive towards people.

“The prevalence of rabies in raccoons is very low,” Dr. Barron said. “There are many more cases of dog and cat bites, than raccoons. Another myth is they are aggressive and attack people. That’s not true, unless you corner them. They’ll run away if they have a chance. They are nocturnal animals and are not seen very often by people in the wild.”

Dr. Barron added the new and improved shelter could not have come to fruition without the help of the Scribantes.

“A lot of people understand about the health concerns and equipment CROW needs,” Dr. Barron said. “But it takes a special person to understand about how the enrichment of these animals and how we want to make them healthy and happy is very important, as well. The Scribantes are very interested in improving the welfare of the raccoons, as well as their health.”

Now the orphaned raccoons have a suitable place to prepare for life after CROW, thanks to the Scribantes.