With their little masked faces and grabby, almost-human-like hands, many people find raccoons to be incredibly cute.
But not everybody seems to know the animals can be a menace — and their numbers appear to be on the rise in Kamloops.
You might have only started noticing these new arrivals recently, but according to Thompson Rivers University professor Karl Larsen, the increase has been happening for a while.
“It’s not that raccoons have just gotten here — they’ve been here for decades, but in very low numbers,” said Larsen, who is a professor of natural resource sciences.
“It seems more recently there’s a little bit of an uptick in the number of sightings or encounters.”
Raccoons have long been present in British Columbia. According to Larsen, they are abundant on the Coast and are well-established in Kelowna.
However, with milder winters recently, Kamloops has become a friendlier destination for the critters, who have fairly warm winter coats.
Another factor that might be at play in their growth in Kamloops is how well they socialize, allowing for large numbers of them to reside in very small areas.
“You’ll never see a bunch of our little local red squirrels hanging out together,” Larsen said. “And skunks outside of the mating season or breeding season — they’re not social.”
While raccoons may appear cute and cuddly, Larsen said they are not to be underestimated.
If you encounter a raccoon, it’s best to keep your distance.
While raccoon rabies is rare and far more prevalent on the East Coast, Larsen said there are other reasons to stay away.
“Any time you have a new species move into a system, there’s some cause for concern,” he said.
“Just stay away from them. Don’t try to take food away from them, don’t try to give food to them and certainly don’t get aggressive with them. They’re like a bear. They can turn back on you quite suddenly.”
One of the biggest initial concerns is residential garbage, into which raccoons will happily tear and toss around the neighbourhood.
“Raccoons are the only carnivores in North America that do very well deep in cities.” Larsen said.
Looking ahead, Larsen predicts we may see other animals invading the region as the climate continues to change.
“Probably the next new kid on the block will be opossums, the Virginia opossum, which is well-established down on the Lower Mainland,” he said.
As these invading species compete with native wildlife, it can lead to a reduction in those species, while also affecting local wildlife, including birds, eggs, frogs and snakes, on which which raccoons will feed.
Larsen said it’s hard to know exactly what will result from the arrival of these animals.
“A good analogy is you throw a monkey wrench under the hood of your car,” he said. “Something’s going to happen. We just don’t know how soon or how obvious it will be to us.”
RACCOONS IN FLIGHT?
In May, a raccoon that scurried into the duct system of an Air Canada jet that was set to leave Saskatoon for Toronto caused a seven-hour flight delay.
Canadian Press reported ground crews in Saskatoon were connecting an air-conditioning unit to the plane and apparently disturbed the furry bandit, who had been inside the unit’s hose.
Air Canada spokeswoman Angela Mah said the incident was a first for the airline.
Pilots came down to assess the scene and, within an hour, animal-control experts were brought in to try to catch the raccoon.
Workers then started taking panels off the plane with screwdrivers and hand drills, while handlers brought out instruments that looked like lassos to try to snag the animal.
Eventually, the raccoon dropped out and was escorted off the property unharmed, said Andrew Leeming, vice-president of operations at the airport.
He added it was like herding cattle.
How the raccoon got into the unit’s hose remains a mystery.
“It might have been in the ground equipment,’’ Leeming said at the time.
“It’s unlikely that it would have travelled from Toronto, but at the same time, we don’t see raccoons round the property, ever. That was kind of unusual.’’