These case studies discuss raccoon habits, trapping alternatives, bait selection and various ‘real-world’ management techniques. Hopefully the lessons will help you in your business.
I’ll never forget going out on a problem raccoon call one day where the customer said he had given up on ridding his home of raccoons. When I got on site I was greeted by a rather large, 250+ pound, tough-looking man, who looked like he easily could have been a professional football player. He said, “Man, you’ve got to help us get rid of these ’coons!!!”
The story he then told went like this: “We’ve had this problem with these raccoons for a while now. They’ve gotten in the attic and we can hear ’em up there walking around at night. Last night I was in the kitchen when I heard one knock over the trash can outside and that was the last straw. I thought about getting my pistol but it was in the car, so I thought a minute and decided I’d boil up a big pot of water and go out and throw that hot water on him. Well, I boiled the water and went out the door, and eased up towards the trash can. At first I couldn’t see him, and then, there it was! That coon was huge!!! When it saw me, he reared up on his hind legs, growled and started comin’ after me!!! Well, I screamed like a girl, dropped the pot of water, ran back into the house and that’s when I called you! You’ve got to get rid of these coons for us!”
Most homeowner encounters with raccoons are not this dramatic; however, raccoons can be significant and destructive pests in both residential and commercial settings. In this article we’ll take a look at some points in dealing with nuisance raccoons and problem solving that can increase your efficiency.
When the average person describes a raccoon you very likely will hear the words: “cute,” “they have a mask like a bandit” or “they always wash their food.” As a pest management professional dealing with damage and nuisance wildlife complaints we often hear words like: “I can’t believe they did so much damage,” “I hate ’em” or “get rid of all of them.”
Obviously raccoons do have many positive attributes that make them interesting to the public and a valuable role in the ecosystems where they live. They are strong for their size, are excellent climbers, are adaptable to different weather and living conditions, have a moderately high reproductive potential, and have both excellent day and night vision. When raccoons are found in urban settings many of these same attributes help them thrive and lead to negative encounters with humans.
As with many reports concerning problem nuisance wildlife, most complaints with raccoons in urban settings come from instances when these animals are simply seeking something to eat and a place to live. In “the wild,” raccoons will den in hollow trees, beneath heavy brush piles, in overturned tree stumps or in the burrows of other animals. In an urban setting, den sites often include attics, chimneys, vacant and occupied buildings, crawlspaces, storm sewers, culverts and trees adjacent to structures. A single raccoon will typically have multiple den sites located within its “home range.” (The area in which they spend most of their life.)
Raccoons are considered omnivorous (feeding on both plant and animal mater). In an urban setting raccoons often can choose from a wide variety of available food sources. Attractive food sources often include such things as: garbage, pet food, organic compost, bird feeders, garden vegetables, fruit, chickens and even nuts such as acorns or pecans. In addition, when a raccoon is living in an urban environment, there can often be a reduced level of mortality from natural predators, and their major threat in life can be simply avoiding cars when crossing streets.
In seeking an effective solution for many human/urban wildlife conflicts I have found it helpful to go through a problem-solving exercise. This involves essentially answering four simple questions: what, where, why and how. That is: What kind of critter is it? Where are they coming and going? Why are there here? How they are gaining access? How are we going to solve the problem?
In dealing with raccoons I could easily write several articles covering raccoon habits, trapping alternatives, bait selection and various techniques. For this article, however, I will review a series of case studies involving problems with raccoons and lessons learned from each incidence. Hopefully the lessons will help you in your business.
Winter Attic Invasion
In the winter of 1999 I received a call from an elderly lady who said a raccoon had ripped the vinyl siding loose from under the edge of her roof and was getting into her attic. Once I was on site I found the raccoon was climbing up a wrought iron railing and jumping up to the edge of the roof from there. Due to the neighborhood cats and dogs in the area I figured I would set a cage trap on the roof to prevent non-target catches. I decided I had better put down a piece of plyboard under the trap to keep the coon from tearing up the roof shingles.
The next morning I came out to find my trap missing from the roof. Upon closer examination I found the trap on the ground, void of any raccoon. Apparently I had overlooked the possibility that a trapped raccoon could cause the trap to move on the sloped roof. In addition, my “economy model” cage trap had bent upon falling to the ground, allowing the raccoon to escape.
The next day the temperature dropped significantly and a snow storm rolled in. I had to wait several days before I could go back out. The homeowner informed me she had heard noises back up in the attic (which was a low attic and inaccessible). I then went to the opening where the coon was entering into the soffit and placed a conibear cage over the opening with a 220 conibear trap. About 10 days later, after the weather had warmed back up a little, I caught a raccoon in the trap as it was attempting to exit the structure plus another in a cage trap set on the ground adjacent to the area where the coons had been climbing up onto the porch. I then left the conibear trap in place for an additional week with no activity, prior to sealing the opening.
Secure cage traps when/if set on sloped roofs. Having the trap roll off of the roof was inhumane to the animal and could have caused a major issue with the property owner or a neighbor. Always buy quality equipment and it will lessen the likelihood of animal escapes and be more durable. While raccoons don’t actually hibernate, even with the milder temperatures of the Southeast, raccoons will “hole up” or stay in den sites for extended periods during extremely cold or bad winter weather periods. If a den site is sealed prematurely with animals in the structure, significant damage to the structure may occur. Attempt to anticipate potential complications on a job site and consider all alternatives.
In this case, a delay in starting the job until warmer weather could have saved many man hours. This job proved to be educational and I solved the client’s problem; however, due to the weather conditions and multiple mistakes made this was financially non profitable.
Something’s in the Kitchen
A number of years ago we received a call wanting to know if there was anyone in our office who could identify animal tracks. Once I got on the phone the caller told me she had an unknown animal in her house and needed the tracks identified. She explained she had several cats, and had recently adopted a third cat. At first the new cat was fitting in nicely, but after a few weeks the homeowner was finding droppings scattered around the house where the cat was not using the liter box. The cat also seemed to be eating a large amount of food. The homeowner had even taken the new cat to the veterinarian to be tested for worms. Out of frustration she decided to close up the cats in the bathroom each evening to save having to clean up the daily mess. After putting up the cats she then went on to put out food and fresh water for the next day. Right before going to bed she was back in the kitchen and noticed water on the floor and all of the cat food was gone. That’s when she realized something else was living in her house! She thought for a few minutes and then came up with a plan. She refilled the cat food dish and got out a bag of flour and then sprinkled it all over the kitchen floor. When she awoke the next morning the tracks were present.
Once on site it was obvious the mystery invader was a raccoon. Due to the abundance of flour, we were able to track the coon through the dining room and into the living room where a white smudge was present on the fireplace hearth. Upon closer examination we found the damper was open. Apparently the raccoon was coming down the chimney into the house to feed and leave behind “calling cards” (raccoon droppings).
This house had a steep pitched slate roof with a large oak tree that had limbs overhanging very close to the roof. Due to the roof construction we determined it would be best to set up at ground level on the exterior and place several cage traps adjacent to the climbing tree. We also were concerned the raccoon could still be in the house so we didn’t want to close the damper and trap him inside. Due to the potential for the raccoon to be hidden inside the house we also placed a cage trap secured to a large piece of plyboard in the kitchen. The next morning we had a large male raccoon waiting on us in the trap that had been set in the kitchen. After several more days we did not capture any other animals and secured the chimney opening with a chimney cap.
Since this occurrence I have had this same situation repeat itself at other locations. I also have had many cases where raccoons have entered into houses and garages through unsecured pet doors. In all these cases a food attractant was involved. When raccoons and other animals are captured in cage traps they will often urinate, defecate and attempt to dig out and reach for anything they can. If you are going to set a cage trap inside a structure you definitely should have it secured to a larger board or piece of plyboard. You also may even want to consider getting a release signed by the property owner in the event of damage. At times if an animal is found in a house, simply opening the doors and windows may be all that is necessary to direct an animal outside. If you can establish the most probable point of access into the structure you often can have success in trapping on the ground at that location. Consider sweet baits if cats are suspected in the area to aid in reducing non-target animal capture.
This Animal is Destroying My House
I took a call from an upset homeowner who said she had some type of animal destroying her basement. She had another company that had been trying to trap the animal for several days. Apparently the other company had been unsuccessful in solving her problem and the damage was getting worse every day.
I went out to the home and found a significant amount of damage to several window casings and the base of the garage door. From the scratch and teeth marks it definitely appeared to be a raccoon. The house had a large amount of stored materials in the basement plus a crawlspace section that was accessible directly from the basement. The other company apparently thought there was a squirrel in the basement and had set out several smaller cage traps baited with peanut butter. The homeowner went on to tell me her son had been leaving the garage door open at night and apparently this animal had become trapped inside when she closed the garage door. I paused for a moment and said, “Ma’am, why don’t you just open the garage door and leave it open this evening to let the raccoon back out.” The homeowner looked at me, looked down and then simply shook her head.
Keep in mind that since we work “in the business” every day some things that are so obvious to us may never cross the minds of our potential customers. Some of our competitors have a poor knowledge base and skill set in addressing wildlife remediation services. Always act as a professional and never openly criticize other competing companies in public or in front of your customers.
Coming to the Back Door
A family friend called in to our office one day stating she had a raccoon that was coming up on her back porch every evening and seemed to be coming around more and more often. After a short discussion I found she had been leaving out a big bowl of food on the porch for her dog and apparently the raccoon had found it. After this short discussion I explained if she would simply quit feeding the dog on the porch chances are her raccoon would move on. After following my recommendation apparently the raccoon moved to turning over her trash cans. I then went through a discussion on the merits of securing the trash cans with bungee cords to exclude the raccoon and let it move on to another area. The next day I got my third call and she told me the raccoon had been scratching at the door and window the previous evening and she was scared the dog or kids might get attacked. At that time we went out and set cage traps. Four days later we had removed a total of 11 raccoons from her backyard.
Once raccoons and other species of wildlife become habituated to a site with a readily available food source, discouraging them to leave the area can be difficult and take longer than a customer is willing to wait. To the layperson, raccoons all look pretty much the same. Keep in mind multiple traps set can result in minimizing the time you may need to be on site.
What’s “Throwing Our Traps”?
One day we received a call from a property management company who owned a strip shopping center. Apparently the tenants in one of the spaces were having a major problem with fleas. Upon further investigation we found there had been raccoons living in the overhead ceiling area for some time. After an initial site inspection we determined the raccoon(s) were gaining access from several overhanging tree limbs and then entering through an open second level unsealed soffit area.
We also went into several of the affected tenant spaces and confirmed they had fleas and that raccoons were in fact overhead. Prior to treating for fleas we wanted to make sure we had the raccoon issue resolved. Several cage traps were set on the flat roof adjacent to the points of entry into the building. The next day our technician found all three cage traps were “thrown” and empty. In addition, it appeared the bait was undisturbed. After discussing the situation with him I suggested he reset the cage traps with additional bait in the front of the traps to see if we were dealing with a super-cage-trap-savvy coon.
The next morning we found the cage traps were thrown again. I went out on site and did some further observations and spotted a set of food bowls by the Dumpster and found an extension ladder in the stockroom of one of the tenants. After asking all of the tenants about anyone feeding the raccoons, no one would admit to it. We did suspect the tenant with the ladder was the one who had been tampering with our traps. We discussed this situation with the landlord and he did not want to cause a big confrontation with the tenant. So after some thought we came up with a plan. I instructed our technician to reset the traps as we had done the previous two days. We then went back on site after all the tenants had left for the day and found the traps were once again thrown. We reset the traps just before dark and early the next morning had a raccoon waiting on us in a cage trap. After repeating the process for several days we removed several more raccoons, had the tree limbs cut back, sealed the openings and treated for the flea issue.
It always pays to make a thorough inspection of the area(s) in question to fully recognize all conditions that are present. If someone is feeding animals that have become a nuisance, then working closely with your customer to address the “people problem” can directly affect your potential for success. In manufacturing facilities with nuisance wildlife and/or feral cats we often have to schedule trapping activities to begin and end during non-operational times for that facility. Discussing these possibilities with a customer in advance, and pricing work accordingly, can be helpful. When a problem such as the one described previously occurs, it is important to communicate with the customer about the situation that is occurring to seek their assistance as soon as possible. If animals are captured in cage traps and released by an unauthorized person then the chances of easily removing those “educated” animals is greatly reduced.
Raccoons are often found present in and around the places where we work and live. Like many wildlife species they are simply focused on survival, reproduction, food and shelter. By answering the questions of “what, where, how and why” you can typically determine the critical answers you need in order to develop a plan of action that will result in delivering long-term solution in addressing a raccoon problem. Always “file” knowledge obtained from previous job sites because this knowledge base will often provide a set of solutions for future situations you may encounter. Always keep in mind the importance of educating your clients, because their actions often directly contribute to causes for wildlife conflicts — and also their long-term resolution.
The author is president of McNeely Pest Control, Winston-Salem, N.C. A member of the Copesan Services Technical Committee, McNeely has served on the board of the North Carolina Pest Management Association, is a member of the Entomological Society of America and is a North Carolina Wildlife Damage Control Agent. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about his company at www.mcneelypest.com.