Raccoon Nation

Watch a preview of the PBS Nature film, Raccoon Nation:

When the lights go down in cities across North America, another world is revealed, populated by shady little characters that live alongside us, but exist in the margins. These pint-size problem solvers are smart, adaptable and omnivorous, and they love a good challenge. Welcome to the world of urban raccoons. With their busy little hands, they can do what other would-be urban animals can’t — open doors, get into attics, and raid secured trash cans. And they are especially fond of big cities, like Chicago, New York, and Toronto — the raccoon capital of the world. In cities everywhere, wherever they’ve been introduced, they have done very, very well.

Following a family of urban raccoons over the course of six months, and using high-definition cameras and intensive GPS tracking systems, “Raccoon Nation” reveals new insights about a species that is far more elusive and wily than most people ever imagined, and more destructive.

It seems that the more obstacles you throw in their way, the smarter they get. In an effort to outwit raccoons, we may be pushing their brain development and perhaps even sending them down a new evolutionary path. One biologist who has been studying raccoons for 25 years believes the city life is in fact cultivating “über-raccoons,” ready to take over the world. Only time will tell just how advanced this “nation” of urban raccoons will become. Raccoon Nation premiered Wednesday, February 8 at 8/7 c.

  • Jose

    Something is gotta be wrong with your video. It took me like 5 minutes to watch the 30 second video, in like 5 second segments :(

  • Nature Fan

    In order to displace some feral cats on my very-rural land, starting about 15 years ago, I had been trying to increase the populations of the few remaining local predators. Of which raccoons were some of them (down to only a small handful of them after cats destroyed all their food sources here, starving them all out). Toward the end of my very successful wildlife restoration project, at times up to 60 raccoons have been in my yard some evenings. Most of them adopted me as one of their own, even wanting me to watch over and play with their cubs on occasion when the mother was all tuckered-out and needing a snooze belly-up in my yard alongside me. Using me like a baby-sitter for their kids. Some of the more familiar ones still stop by each spring and early summer during whelping-season to show off their cubs. (As do some of those that sustained hunting and car-accident injuries.) I strongly suspect their few-days to a few-weeks visit each year are the raccoon mothers’ way to teach their cubs that during an emergency, here’s a safe place to come for help and to remember it.

    I could tell you people things about wild raccoon behavior that you simply would not believe. Stuff I’ve NEVER seen mentioned in any books nor any nature special during my whole life. Who do I send my corrections to about these peoples’ findings after I watch the full show on the 8th? :-) I doubt any of you, even the people that made this video, know how truly smart these critters really are. Admirable, to say the least.

  • sara

    Dear nature fan, I myself have been raised by, and have raised many raccoons to the wild… I stand by a strick oath of you can take nature out of the wild but you can not take the wild out of the nature… the life of a raccoon is much unknown…yet I have seen what others might not ever expect! They are the most curious yet gentle creatures … cat like in agility but dog like in loyalty and emotionally like a child… can’t wait to see this episode to make sure they got it right! I have spent my whole 29 years with raccoons but not studying them per say but learning from them and growing up with them and all their quirks ; )I hope we are both pleased with their representation of the amazing raccoon!

  • Eliot W. Colliins

    Aren’t urban raccoons just another invasive species? Other than their cuteness factor, aren’t urban raccoons really no different than rats?

  • Joy

    Eliot: I think the point here is that raccoons are smarter and more agile than rats — especially because of their paws (essentially like hands with thumbs), and their social problem solving skills. And because of their size, they can’t hide as easily, but are somehow thriving anyway.

  • Rick

    Eliot, aren’t humans just another invasive species as well? Other than their intelligence, aren’t urban humans really no different than rats? Just food for thought!

  • VegCat

    @Rick: you’re right, humans are the most invasive and destructive species of all @Eliot: The cities are now raccoon territory because our “civilization” keeps on pushing and destroying their natural habitats, what else can we expect… @Nature: that same thing happened to me! it all started with a sad skinny looking raccoon begging for food on my back deck, i gave her some leftovers and ever since she had introduced me to her colony, brought her sisters and kits and grand kits to my deck for a snack or just for some play time (on my now shreded screen!) and several times she left the babies right there in front of my door for me to babysit so she could go on a girls night out! (no bs, this happened more than i can recall!) I also met some of the guys of the colony, surprisingly shier and more cautions than the girls. This has been happening for 5y now… I totally believe that they teach their young about safe places in case of need as i’ve seen injured ‘coonies camping on my back yard for days… as for the first one that adopted me, “Juju”, she’s still around and she shows up around june to show off her new babies… they are truly amazing!

  • Barbara Hamaker

    I, too, have had the most wonderful urban raccoon experiences over the past 30 years, living in the heart of Hollywood, CA. Being with these amazing animals is the greatest gift of love and trust imaginable. Mama(s) and babies visit me each season, love to climb my big pine tree, sleep, eat and play. When the kits grow up they come back with their kits. I built them a wonderful long shelf connected to the tree and my porch roof, so I can watch them for hours. One baby loves to play with my set of bells I hung on my tree. Mama brought me triplets last year full of fun, love and play–their twitter/chatter is music to my ears. I can’t wait to see your program! I hope you include a possum here and there, they also visit often, but don’t seem to like being around the Raccs, so they keep separate visiting hours!

  • Bill

    I am a former hunter who was changed by the military and then by rescuing some raccoons and raising and releasing them.
    Once you have had the honor of being called “momma” by a raccoon baby, it will change you forever.
    The love, compassion, trust, and overall acceptance of you by a raccoon is an amazing thing that few will ever experience (or believe if you tell them). These are an incredibly intelligent and wise member of our world worthy of study and acceptance among us.
    I too feel that humans are the real problem most of the time with the other species on this planet. We really are not that smart when you look at our dealings with the other animals around us.
    I have sat for hours and babysat kits while a momma raccoon took a nap just a few feet from me during the afternoon all because she trusted me to look after her babies because I am no longer a threat to them and only want to help them a be a part of their world while having them be a part of mine.
    I can’t wait to see this program.

  • Ellen Urie

    I did not know racoons were that friendly. Coming into people’s yards & visiting like that. They are such a cute animal. Years ago my uncle brought a little raccoon into his house. He finally had to take it back out because it was tearing up curtains – everything. Once when I was working night shift, on my way home like around 12:30 a.m. I had to stop my car on the back road to let a family of raccoons cross the road. Two adults & three babies. I thought they were so cute! I agree that they are only an invasive species because their habitat is getting smaller & smaller. Like what’s happening with all animals. I agree with VegCat about the humans!!

  • Michele

    One of the main reasons raccoons are seen in such high numbers in the inner cities is the sheer amount of garbage left out. They have a smorgasbord, and as you may know, reproduction is higher when there is a good amount of food. In Philadelphia, where I am from, there is so much garbage on the streets: chicken bones with meat still on them, yogurt containers with lots left, ends of burger, etc. If there wasn’t such a great habitat for them, the raccoon population wouldn’t be so high.

    I sympathize with you if you have raccoons in your house, but if they are in the city, it’s because they have lost their natural wooded habitat and moved into cities where they are supported by humanity’s garbage. True, they may sometimes carry rabies, but in Philadelphia, FERAL CATS are the number one rabies carrier at the moment. And you don’t hear anyone suggesting that we kill them. It’s ironic, too – because the raccoons belong here. They are a part of nature. Cats were *introduced* by humans and are an artificial predator of millions of songbirds. Why be so hard on the raccoon? Unless they are literally tearing your house apart, they are just trying to get by and raise a family, just like all of us.

  • Bob Hack


  • Kitty

    I hate raccoons!! They are destructive thieves. I have feral cats who are the greatest joy to have around. Have worked with them carefully, over time, making them the most tame and loving creatures I have ever known. They are sweet and devoted; meanwhile, the marauding coons do everything they can to make the cats’ lives miserable and run around on the roof at night keeping me awake. Raccoons are ugly predators when placed in an urban setting. Once in a while, there is a sweet one. But most of them are invasive, aggressive and often confrontational–particularly with the cats. If I had the heart to kill them, I would–to protect the cats. But I can’t kill a living creature. Even a raccoon.

  • Scout

    We have a pet raccoon who was orphaned when her eyes were still closed. She lives with us and our three kids. She is never caged but has the run of the house. and uses a litter box very well. She sleeps on our twelve-year old daughter’s head every night and purrs there, keeping warm. We also have a Newfoundland dog, a goose, and a rabbit. At times they are all in the livingroom with us together, walking free. The raccoon and the dog play together sometimes, and we play with her too. (One of her favorite games is when we hide under a blanket on the floor and she stalks and chases us in a playful manner.) Everyone gets along. I think it’s us humans who are squabbling more often. Our raccoon will go with us on walks on our property and swim in the stream (yes, swim.) Along with us on the walks are the dog and the goose. Our raccoon is social. When we have a number of guests over for dinner, she is curious about them, and goes up to them to meet them and interact. She behaves in a predictable fashion. Our raccoon is truly amazing and is much more alert and engaging than any of our cats ever were. Too bad everyone gives raccoons a bad name, maybe they should just enjoy them instead. Their lives would be enriched. Yes, I am promoting the health and well-being of raccoons. PS All of our animals are vaccinated against rabies for their protection and ours.

  • Rich

    I live in Highlands, NJ but lived in Portland, Oregon for a spell. We dealt with racoons but they wanted to eat the robins nesting outside our window. Our Aussie would not stand for it. Partial to opposums. We had a 1923 cottage with a detached garage, but the floor was bad. I was tearing it up and there was this opposum. I thought it might hiss and get agressive, but it just yawned and went back to sleep.

  • Michele

    Kitty, your feral cats are an invasive species who belong in loving, INDOOR homes, not outside to be hit by cars, get frostbite, and to kill millions of environmentally important songbirds. Feral cats were introduced by humans. If you care about them, get them adopted, not ‘Trap, neuter and dump’. Cats DO NOT belong outside. They are not a natural animal. You throw around words like ‘invasive’ and you don’t even know what it means biologically. Raccoons are not invasive. They are a natural species in the USA. They are only invasive if they come into your house.

    Just because you LIKE cats more doesn’t mean they have a greater right to be here than raccoons. It doesn’t matter which one you LIKE more. One is naturally here (raccoons), one is a problem created by humans. Where do feral cats come from? humans dumping unwanted pets who then breed, unchecked.

    Raccoons, even if you don’t like them, BELONG here. whether you like them or not does not come into the argument. They are a natural species that have a niche in the environment. Raccoons are not ‘placed’ in an urban setting. They come here because we have destroyed their natural habitat, and created filthy cities with lots of garbage for them to eat.

    Everyone, whether you like raccoons or don’t like them, it doesn’t matter. Whether or not a particular human finds them appealing or not doesn’t matter. They are a wild animal who has a right to belong in this world. If they get in your house, they don’t belong there. But outside? They belong there. I don’t particularly like cottontail rabbits – they’re ok, nothing special (I prefer birds) but I understand they belong here and my opinion on whether they are appealing or not DOES NOT MATTER.

  • Ben

    Who sings the songs in the episode? Much appreciated.

  • Kc brady

    Well, we made coyotes really smart, so we might as well do the same with racoons.

  • thebatguy

    A major flaw in most of the comments about raccoons in cities because we have “destroyed their natural environment”. Raccoon densities in RURAL areas are at or above carrying capacity. They aren’t in urban areas because there is no place left for them…. they are in the cities because the habitat there is far more favorable to such an adaptive species, and the den areas (hollow trees, etc) in the woods have no vacancies due to maxed out numbers. They are simply redefining their natural environment.

  • Robert E

    Ben –

    If you are referring to the guitar piece with vocals I believe the answer is CHRIS WHITELY WITH SPECIAL GUEST RICK FINES.
    This information was taken from the Production Credits for “Raccoon Nation”.
    Production Credits for Nature programs can be found by selecting the “Production Credits” link in the “Inside This Episode” box on the upper right hand side of this page.

  • Teresa

    I have been living with a colony of raccoons under my house for many years. I have observed a number of behaviors and details about their communication and their culture, but have never found anyone to share my information with. I have lots of photos and know most of the colony on sight. Even though we are in the city, we also have a lot of Coyotes in the area, their natural predator, so it occaisionally gets interesting. Is there anyone I can share my information with? Much of what I have seen over the years was not covered on the show–probably because I have been observing for so many years. Does anyone know how to get in touch with Raccoon researchers?

  • ckinla

    Really hate these guys. Not only are they huge disease vectors, two huge ones killed a sweet little rabbit who was out exercising.

    I’m a lover of wildlife, but NOT these guys!

  • libby

    I watched Raccoon Nation last night and LOVED it. I was really surprised there was no mention of sewers for living, hiding, or transport. I live in Austin, TX and see them slippin in and out of the sewers all the time. Did you encounter any of this behavior while filming? Anyone else notice this?

  • JT

    Everyone seemed to miss the most important part on the video. Yes they are cute and cuddy but you won’t catch me near them. They mentioned a parasite that doesn’t bother the Racoon but harms humans and dog nuero systems. This is only the ones we know about right now so I can imagine what we will learn in the future. Maybe zoos will even be off limits and why many have glass screens rather than a fence now to limit liabilities in the future I know I would. So you have to charge more. Better safe than sorry. I have a tree cutter friend that always encounters Racoons that live in the trees he cut down. Many times he has to take babies home because mom will abandon them if the home tree is cut so he has no choice but to nurse them to adult and give them to a sanctuary. But he lets them live in his basement with him and they run in the rafters He says they are trained to poop but I think they poop elsewhere and his family is breathing it in the parasites . They end up in the air in the room from the poop when it dries like mold does. He has a real bad back problem and a lot of other health problems. It was always thought to be from the work but new problems popped up and his back problem got worse. Does ayone know what test will reveal this parasite?

    So there needs to be a study done on this and they should start with tree cutting people since they breathe in dust from trees that these animals live in. I would suggest they wear masks from now on.

  • Mike

    Great video. I’m in NYC, and now I understand how they can survive here. They are very smart animals.

  • Gail

    We watched the program- we live in a gated community- We have trapped them and relocated them to other areas. I have a problem that they will get into my screened porch and then into the house where I have a cat that has access to the porch. Some of them like bird seed and others like the suet. I am my wits end as to what to do. Yes they are cute, but then again can be dangerous. I guess I will have to take in the bird food at nite.

  • Lori

    @ Nature Fan of February 1 and Teresa of February 9, among others … I would love to see you publish a book about your adventures with raccoons, and I would bet it would sell well! We need to understand these creatures and to learn more about them in urban as well as rural settings. Even if you are not a professional writer, you can write a book and include pictures. It would be interesting, to say the least!

  • Nature Fan

    A few points. Their findings about their relationship with cats is ALL wrong. Due to the bold patterns bred into cats’ coats by humans selectively breeding them, no native predator will go near an invasive-species cat with bold patterns in its coat. This is why cats can so effectively annihilate the complete food-chain in any area, from the smallest of prey up to the top predator, starving out the native predators that are warned away from cats by their bold coat patterns. Bold patterns is a universal symbol throughout nature that any unknown animal sporting bold patterns must have some hidden toxic or olfactory defense mechanism. I couldn’t get any of the predators here to stay around if a cat showed up. They wouldn’t even stay in the yard if I offered them a dead cat with bold patterns for a nutritious protein treat. (You can confirm this yourself by searching online for stories about someone’s adorable “Mr. Fluffy” that chased that “nasty” coyote from their yard. The cat’s non-existent bravado had nothing to do with it. It was the cat’s coat-pattern alone that scared that larger predator away, nothing more.) This is why nature will not save us from the feral-cat disaster we face today. You’ll only end up with bold-patterned cats destroying the whole native food-chain in any ecosystem they are found in. It’s going to require the eye of a human and a gun to be able to get rid of cats faster than cats can out-breed and out-adapt to any trapping method used. All this discovered from the only cat I could get any wildlife here to eat, an all-gray cat. A resident opossum family which then promptly died from gnawing on that cat-meat. Alarming, in that opossum, due to their lower body temperatures cannot contract nor spread many common diseases, not even rabies. For some disease in that cat to have killed opossum is disturbing, to say the least. In a turn-about way, the bold patterns on cats might be the only thing that is saving many native animals from death-by-cat. Cats truly are dangerous and toxic to all wildlife.

  • Nature Fan

    A few points. Their findings about their relationship with cats is ALL wrong. Due to the bold patterns bred into cats’ coats by humans selectively breeding them, no native predator will go near an invasive-species cat with bold patterns in its coat. This is why cats can so effectively annihilate the complete food-chain in any area, from the smallest of prey up to the top predator, starving out the native predators that are warned away from cats by their bold coat patterns. Bold patterns is a universal symbol throughout nature that any unknown animal sporting bold patterns must have some hidden toxic or olfactory defense mechanism. I couldn’t get any of the predators here to stay around if a cat showed up. They wouldn’t even stay in the yard if I offered them a dead cat with bold patterns for a nutritious protein treat. (You can confirm this yourself by searching online for stories about someone’s adorable “Mr. Fluffy” that chased that “nasty” coyote from their yard. The cat’s non-existent bravado had nothing to do with it. It was the cat’s coat-pattern alone that scared that larger predator away, nothing more.) This is why nature will not save us from the feral-cat disaster we face today. You’ll only end up with bold-patterned cats destroying the whole native food-chain in any ecosystem they are found in.

  • Nature Fan

    And J.T. if you are worried about diseases being spread by animals, then you’re going to have nightmares over how feral and stray cats’ Toxoplasma gondii parasites are now being found to hijack the minds of humans to do the parasite’s bidding. Their parasites are even destroying rare marine-mammals along all coastal regions Cats are even spreading the plague today, no rats nor fleas required.

    These are just the diseases that stray and feral cats have been spreading to humans, not counting the ones they spread to all wildlife. THERE ARE NO VACCINES against many of these, and are in-fact listed as bio-terrorism agents. They include: Campylobacter Infection, Cat Scratch Disease, Coxiella burnetti Infection (Q fever), Cryptosporidium Infection, Dipylidium Infection (tapeworm), Hookworm Infection, Leptospira Infection, Giardia, Plague, Rabies, Ringworm, Salmonella Infection, Toxocara Infection, Toxoplasma. [Centers for Disease Control, July 2010] Sarcosporidiosis, Flea-borne Typhus, and Tularemia can now also be added to that list.

  • Becca

    I strongly believe in caring for animals, be they my own, backyard wildlife, or feral cats that used to be house pets until stupid humans turned them out because the female became pregnant, and the babies are now feral. If the humans cared for their animals properly by either keeping the animals who came of age in the house, or better still, had them spayed, their would be no feral or unwanted cats and kittens. But, humans are often selfish and ignorant.

    Few people can resist kittens, which I guess is why their humans don’t have them neutered right away as soon as they are old enough. But, for two woman (including myself), it was getting expensive. And, finally, all were captured and spayed or neutered, so my feeding bills dropped considerably. The cats kept the mice and rats away from the health food store where I shop. And, the cats have stayed and did not wander. No one seems to mind that they are there. And now, 8 years later, I’m still feeding the cats. Alive is one original kitten, now an adult and a mother of two living cats. All are spayed. They live as a family group. None of the humans who care for them would consider breaking up the family. They are feral, but they stay to themselves and only come out to feed.

    For those who bad mouth feral cats, recall that the cats did not ask to be dropped when impregnated by other cats, who’s owners, like Nick Santorum do not believe in birth control. Birth control is a necessary item so that parents and adoptees can care for both children and pets who are wanted and loved.

    I have move on to feeding more wild life, but now they are coons and birds, in exchange for their antics and teaching me how to photograph them. http://tinyurl.com/7h2y74m

  • Gustaf

    I appreciate getting all the information on urban raccoons from Nature. I am going to put protective devises on the rain gutter downspouts. I think the program should have included more information on the dangers of these pests.
    MSN headline: ‘They’re urban raccoons, and they’re not afraid’
    “OLYMPIA, Wash. — A fierce group of raccoons in a west end neighborhood has killed 10 cats, attacked a small dog and bitten at least one pet owner who had to get rabies shots, area residents say.” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14486644/ns/us_news-weird_news/t/theyre-urban-raccoons-theyre-not-afraid/#.T0WMSocgeEs
    It seems a pack of coons in Olympia has become very mean. It’s not just in Olympia. I heard about an incident in Seattle where the owner of a cat that had been torn apart by coons tried to retrieve the bloody cat body and faced an angry pack of coons that did not want to give it up. No unarmed person should approach a raccoon, even to save a pet.
    It is also risky to handle any young wild animal which may well be carrying a disease or parasites. State laws usually forbid live trapping and relocating wild animals.

  • Mike

    Thank you Gustaf. Anyone else remember the food chain? You wanna be at the bottom or top?

  • Randy

    Raccoons are so interesting. I rehabed a pair of orphaned kits. they quickly learned to unlatch the cage, so I bolted it shut. Very shortly after, I was on the phone when i felt tugging at my pant legs. sure enough, they had learned to unscrew the bolt. I put a keyed lock on it. Keyed because I thought they might figure out the combination.

    I have also witnessed just how tough they are. My friend’s trained guard dog cornered a full-grown adult. It waited for the dog to close in, jumped in the air and grabbed on to the dog’s back. The poor thing lost both of its ears before we got the raccoon to let go.

  • Bob G.

    Excellent film. I watched it last night and donated to PBS this morning.. Great stuff..

  • Susan Finkelstein

    I saw this show last night on NATURE. I was APPALLED to learn of the mass roundup and murder of tens of thousands of raccoons in Japan — especially by Buddhist monks who I thought were opposed to all sorts of violence (I once heard that they even would not plant anything because they might inadvertently kill worms while digging). What about peaceful acceptance of the lives of the raccoons? What about peaceful acceptance of the inevitability of the temples collapsing?

    People have tried this approach with controlling the stray cat population in cities — and it just DOESN’T work! By killing groups of raccoons, you are just creating a “vacuum” into which new raccoons will move to fill the void. The Trap-Neuter-Release program is much more effective, not to mention HUMANE. Plus, there are ways to leave sterilization medications in food that the racoons can ingest. This has been done in places with rampant deer populations. I was sick to my stomach after hearing about the primitive, cruel, and ironically ineffective, ways that so-called scientists are trying to tackle this problem.

  • Chris K.

    If only humans can be as efficient and adaptive as raccoon in their little domains! All our problems with regard to overconsumption and environmental degradation would be solved! Speaking about violence against raccoons, pair this viewing with the reading “Our Raccoon Year” by Paul Theroux in Harpers Magazine–where the animals made a beast out of an abandoned husband and family man.

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