By far the greatest number of any particular species that Aspen Valley receives for rehabilitation is raccoons. Many caring people from central and northern Ontario contact us when they find one or more babies that appear to be orphaned, often as a result of the mother being killed by a car. From our experience, the same numbers find their way to many of the other rehabilitation centres in Ontario, and consequently we sometimes call other centres to see if they still have room if we do not, and vice versa.
Setting rescued raccoons free.
A raccoon explores a lake a few minutes after Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary staff and volunteers released it, and others, at a remote location last week.
In 2012 we have cared for over 100 raccoons, many arriving so small that they don’t have their eyes open yet. When these babies arrive, they are fragile, often quite cold, having perhaps been without their mother for a day or two, so they are placed in a cage with blankets and a heat disc to warm them up, before any feeding is attempted. Quite often they are dehydrated and need to be given electrolytes, either by mouth or by tubing directly into the stomach. And often they are riddled with fleas and require a gentle flea bath after they have been stabilized.
Sometimes it is difficult to get the little creature to take the special formula from a bottle, but eventually they all eagerly look forward to feeding time (usually every four to five hours), and staff and volunteers work tirelessly to keep up with the workload. It is important, however, even at this age, not to spend any time more than is necessary with them so that they don’t become used to humans. This is really essential to achieve a successful release.
The procedure is the same for all. To begin with, they are placed in the quarantine area where they are observed for any signs of disease. This is particularly important because raccoons are susceptible to parvovirus and distemper, and any of these deadly diseases could soon spread throughout the entire colonies if proper precautions are not taken. At Aspen Valley, staff and volunteers use a disinfectant foot bath when entering and leaving the quarantine area and wear protective gowns and gloves when handling each raccoon.
When the infant raccoons grow in size, they graduate to the nursery area where they are kept in large cages with other raccoons who came to us from the same area of Ontario, so that when it comes time to release them, they will go back to the same places. The raccoons are provided with toys and hammocks (their favourite place to sleep in a bundle). By this time they have graduated to solid food.
Throughout the first nine weeks, they receive a series of vaccinations, leading to the next step in their rehabilitation – the move an area known as “Raccoon City” at the back of the property, far from human contact, where they are housed in outdoor enclosures and introduced to some of the foods that they will encounter in the wild. Minnows are placed in small pools so that the raccoons practice hunting. Berries and other foods are provided as well.
This month, as fall arrives, many of the raccoons are ready for release. Staff and volunteers release them in remote areas – the best possible sites far from people and traffic but with the best natural surroundings with water and food sources to increase their likelihood of survival.
(These weekly articles are contributed by staff at the Aspen Valley Wildlife Sanctuary. The sanctuary rehabilitates orphaned and injured wildlife with a mandate to educate the public towards a better understanding of local fauna.)