They’re cute, fluffy and resourceful — and they’re invading Toronto.
Dubbed “trash pandas” for their ability to bust into garbage bins to snag a snack, raccoons are breaking into a lot more places in Canada’s largest city.
“I have come home to find a raccoon in my kitchen, munching on cat food — and I think a lot of us who live here have had the same experience,” Suzanne MacDonald, a psychology professor at York University specializing in animal behavior, told the Daily News. “It only has to happen once for us to learn to lock our sliding doors!”
MacDonald also volunteered her time testing out Toronto’s prototypes for the raccoon-resistant green bins that were rolled out in Ontario’s capital city to more than 450,000 residents between April 2016 and January of this year.
“Many Toronto residents certainly have a rocky relationship with raccoons while others think they’re cute and cuddly,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told the Daily News. “We know raccoons are a part of the wildlife in our city — that’s why we rolled out a new raccoon-resistant green bin to help avoid headaches for residents on garbage day.
“As I said back in 2016 when we launched the new bins, raccoons literally sit on people’s porches waiting around for the chance to have a buffet. Well, the buffet is over.”
But the masked mammals have been getting into other areas. “The usual ones are that they are in someone’s garage, chimney, attic, whatever, and people want them removed,” MacDonald said. “Their poop is not good and so having raccoons pooping and peeing in your attic is not a great idea.”
Poop from these animals can carry raccoon roundworm, which can cause infections in humans who come in contact with their feces; an intestinal infection called giardiasis; and salmonella and leptospirosis, which can cause bacterial diseases.
As for how many raccoons are currently plaguing Toronto, MacDonald says there’s no official count, but estimates there are about 100 per square kilometer — or 62 per square mile — in some areas of the city.
“There are certainly a lot of them,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a problem. Humans and raccoons can peacefully coexist. We need to use our big brains to do better at that.
“Having wildlife in the city means that we have a healthy city,” MacDonald added. “We need better public education to show people how to coexist with raccoons and other species. They were here first, so we are actually invading their space, not the other way around.”
But, she acknowledges, “People who have raccoons that have damaged their property may feel otherwise, though.”
MacDonald has viewed more than 1,000 hours of videos of raccoons to study their behavior. “They are just behaving like hungry wild carnivores who just so happen to have really good paws and can get into places that we wish they wouldn’t,” she said.
The city of Toronto’s web site has a page dedicated to raccoons with helpful tips on how to protect your home, garden and lawn. There’s also advice on how to clean up raccoon feces: Wear gloves and a face mask; treat decks, patios, and other surfaces with boiling water; wash hands well with soap and water; and carefully remove material contaminated with raccoon feces and burn it, bury it or send it to a landfill.
Don Peat, a spokesman for Mayor Tory, told the Daily News that the new raccoon-resistant bins are working.
“Overall, the feedback has been very positive and the program has been extremely successful with less than one percent of the bins needing to be repaired for any reason,” Tory said. “To date, there have been very few complaints — approximately 24 — about raccoons getting into green bins.
“In many of the cases, it has been a faulty locking mechanism and we’ve been able to fix the mechanism or replace the lid,” he added.
The raccoons seem to be finding other ways to track down food.
MacDonald has been measuring the dead raccoons that the city picks up after they’ve been hit by cars to see if they have gotten thinner since the raccoon-resistant bins were introduced.