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Reinhard Lässig

Forschungsanstalt WSL

Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL
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Article

Author(s): Reinhard Lässig
Editorial office: WSL, Switzerland
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The raccoon – a rascal with destruction potential

Raccoons have been living in Swiss forests for about 40 years. Unlike in central Germany where the animals, originally introduced from America, have in many places become a plague, they are not yet very many in Switzerland. Near Lake Geneva they have become more numerous since 2003.

Waschbär (Procyon lotor)
Fig. 1 - Raccoon (Procyon lotor)
Photo: smithy/pixelio.de

In Swiss Zoos and animal parks it is one of the main attractions: the North American raccoon. The Indians originally called it Aroughoun "He who scratches with his hands." In Switzerland the raccoon was first spotted in the Canton of Schaffhausen in 1976. This funny nocturnal animal with its characteristic face markings, black and white ringed tail and its nimble clawed paws has crept into Switzerland practically unnoticed. Since 2003 it has also colonised the banks of Lake Geneva.

Successful reproduction

The first raccoons to migrate to northern Switzerland have obviously reproduced successfully; otherwise further examples would not have appeared in the Cantons of Solothurn, Basel-Land, Thurgau, Schaffhausen, Aargau, Bern and Zurich. The cat sized prey grabbers seem to like life in Switzerland. The raccoon has hardly any natural enemies here and it is very adaptable. Raccoon hunting is permitted all year round, because it is feared that the intruder will contest the habitat of other species.

Imported for fur

The first raccoons were imported into Germany around 80 years ago to be bred for their fur. In 1934 they managed to escape into the wild in central Europe. Thanks to their high fertility rate their numbers have now reached well over 100,000.

Love of animals has its limits

These animals which are native to North America are very well liked. However, many inhabitants of Kassel, Hanover, Hamburg or Berlin now have quite large problems due to the short flight distance and the adaptability of these titbit eaters. First they feed the raccoons with tasty fruit and leftovers. Then when they are nearly tame and more and more of them appear, they are impossible to get rid of. They nest in the rafters of the houses and romp around to the dozen. They then establish penetrant, stinking toilets in the loft. When on top of this they dig out holes in the rafters and brickwork until the plaster crumbles onto the heads of the people living there, then suddenly it is over with the love of animals.

Raccoon databank

Luckily things have not reached such extremes in Switzerland. At present the Swiss raccoon population is around a few hundred animals. The Federal Hunting Statistics list between sero and 4 (2001 and 2002) raccoons per year between the years 1993 to 2015. Between 2010-2012 and 2014 no raccoon was shot by hunters and in each year an average of only one animal was recorded as a victim of road traffic. In 2001 however seven animals were caught or shot. Is this the first sign that these migratory animals have not only settled here but are also spreading? In the opinion of Simon Capt of the Centre Suisse de Cartographie de la Faune (CSCF) in Neuchâtel, who has recorded all reported Swiss racoon sightings in a data bank, this is not the case. (See Fig. 2)

Racoon spread in Switzerland
Fig. 2 - Raccoon spread (Procyon lotor) in Switzerland. Copyright CSCF Neuchâtel
 

The CSCF distribution map of January 24, 2019 clearly shows that there have been new sightings of raccoons in Switzerland, mainly along the lakes and rivers on the Swiss Plateau, in the Jura and the Pre-Alps. Over the past decade, they especially expanded near Lake Geneva, Lake of Constance and the rivers Aare and Limmat. Sporadically racoons appear along rivers in the Cantons of Freiburg, Berne, Lucerne, Solothurn, Basel and Zurich. According to Capt, there is no evidence for a migration from France or Bade-Wurtemberg (southwestern Germany), as these regions do not host a proper population. Most of the individuals observed in recent years were therefore escapes from captivity.


  • Translation: Dawn Meister, Stallikon

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