I live in northeastern Ohio, where there is currently a ban on rehabilitating raccoons. Babies and adults are drowned, beaten with shovels, and left to starve. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources claims that this is because of the fear of spreading rabies; the uneducated public are raising these animals so they are not killed. Is there anything your organization can do? I have heard rumors that the ban might be repealed in the future, but with your help, it might happen sooner.
––Lisa Chapman, Ashtabula, Ohio
The Ohio regulation against rehabilitating raccoons also prohibits capturing and translocating raccoons for use in “chase pens” and for other hunting purposes.
Ohio has had sporadic outbreaks of raccoon rabies since 1977, a year after a hunting club translocated 3,000 raccoons from Florida to West Virginia. Many of those raccoons turned out to be rabid. They spread rabies throughout the mid-Atlantic region. The outbreak was finally stopped by the 1992 introduction of Raboral, an oral rabies vaccination for wildlife, engineered to be released from bait pellets only by enzmyes specific to raccoons.
However, while Raboral stopped the pandemic, it did not end the threat of raccoon rabies entirely. This is actually a double threat.
The first problem is that rabid raccoons often act quite tame during the “dumb” phase of the disease, when they are quite feverish. They are easily picked up during this phase, and rarely have visible injuries from being bitten, since raccoons usually transmit rabies to each other with their saliva while engaging in mutual grooming.
The second problem is that when raccoons become rabid they are often able to incubate and spread rabies for several months before showing active symptoms.
Therefore there is no way to be sure a raccoon found in a rabies area is safe.
Of further concern, up to 70% of the raccoons in North America may carry Baylisascaris procyonis, or raccoon roundworms, which can infect about 90 other species, and can cause blindness, disabling brain damage, and death in humans.
But even if a raccoon is not rabid, and does not shed roundworms, there is yet another reason why attempting to rehabilitate them is not a good idea: raccoons are so heavily dependent upon knowledge of their habitat for survival that translocated raccoons have only about a 25% chance of surviving for a month in their new location.