Rescuing raccoons

Caring for orphaned wildlife can be fun, if you ignore the fleas, the vomit and the worms says Sara Frost.

BBC Wildlife Magazine, June 2014

Has anybody seen my nipples?”I shouted.

“I think someone is washing them,” an intern replied.

Grumpy from lack of sleep, I stormed out of the nursery as the next round of feeds began. I was late for mine, but soon found the box with my bottles, feeding charts and, yes, rubber nipples.

You have to use the right ones because otherwise the babies refuse to feed, and right now my nine raccoon kits were hungry and crying.

I went on autopilot. Raccoon 1: fed, cleaned and toileted; Raccoon 2: fed, cleaned and toileted; Raccoon 3… I would be doing this every three hours for the next month.

Working as a wildlife rehabilitator has its perks, but it was hard to remember them at 4am when I was up to my eyes in explosive diarrhoea (theirs, not mine).

In the last week I’d caught fleas from a coyote, been sprayed in the face by a skunk (Febreze can only do so much) and dewormed myself on two occasions.

I tried to stay focused on the positives – soon these orphans would be released and have a second chance at life.

A gurgling came from the raccoon on my lap, and I looked down to find freshly regurgitated milk seeping through my trousers. Like I said, at 4am it can be hard to remember the perks.

Dumped in a box on a Vancouver roadside, these three-week-old babies had been close to death when they were found and brought to the rehab centre by a dog walker.

Whoever abandoned the animals, probably after removing them from an attic (a favourite nesting spot), had left me with the daunting task of becoming a raccoon mother.

It was early days, but I had already concluded that the experience was an excellent contraceptive – after this, I was never having kids.

Four months later I was hiking through the dense forest, a kennel under each arm. My raccoons had grown into uncontrollable teenagers and needed to be set free.

They sniffed the fresh air and purred excitedly. I pushed deeper and deeper into the forest, fording streams, scrambling over fallen trees and sinking into foul-smelling swamps.

Finally I found the perfect spot: no signs of bears, plenty of tasty slugs and close to fresh water.

Curious paws strained through the bars to fondle the forest floor, and as I opened the kennel doors they bounded out, diving nose-first into the mossy undergrowth, ripping it up in chunks and rubbing it on their bellies.

A dominant female lowered her head and swung her tail aggressively from side to side at an unfamiliar pine cone. Others ran along branches, chirping loudly and claiming their new territory.

With a narrowing of his eyes and a wiggle of his rear end, one of the males leaped onto my leg and climbed up into my arms. He bit my ear playfully as I put him onto a tree, and off he went with his brothers and sisters, not once looking back.

My work was done.  

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Sara is a BBC Wildlife Local Patch Reporter. Read her fantastic blog.  

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