Disrupted sleeping schedules, noisy neighbours and a world that looks unrecognizable: the coronavirus pandemic has been tough for Toronto’s raccoons.
And with a lockdown keeping human residents at home in Canada’s largest city, dangerous interactions with Toronto’s infamous urban critters are also increasing.
Over the last year, the Toronto public health unit has recorded a 62% increase in raccoon attacks on residents.
But experts say that reports of biting and scratching aren’t because the animals – lovingly dubbed “trash pandas” – are getting more aggressive. Instead, the blame lies with Torontonians.
“It’s really just people being foolish,” said Derick McChesney, owner of a Toronto wildlife-control company. “I’m face-to-face with them pretty much every day. One might be aggressive, especially if there are babies around. But for the most part nothing’s really changed with them. Instead, people are at home more and unfortunately, they’re also being foolish.”
With residents spending more time outside and closer to their homes, the city has warned against approaching, petting or feeding raccoons – acts that have inevitably resulted in fearful raccoons lashing out.
But increased exposure to raccoons throughout the day has given some residents a greater appreciation of the wily animals.
Homeowners are quickly learning that raccoons are used to sleeping in houses that are typically empty during the day.
“They’ve always had a unique ability to figure out where the quiet spots of the house are. They love to nest directly above the master bedroom,” said McChesney. “Because they know that in the daytime, it’s usually quiet and they can get a good sleep.”
In addition to hearing more rustling inside the walls, people are taking greater notice of an illness that stalks the raccoon population: canine distemper virus.
The fatal illness typically leaves raccoons with crusted-over eyes and a wobbly, confused gait.
Because raccoons with the fatal illness can lose their fear of humans – and lash out if threatened – officials have also asked people to be wary of approaching sick animals.
In the last year, Toronto’s animal services said it had 13,712 service requests for sick and injured raccoons, compared with 4,172 the year prior. (The city has also warned that raccoons can carry rabies, although the last documented case of that disease was in 2017.)
For some people, lockdown has presented a rare opportunity to appreciate the city’s vast array of wildlife. In recent months, coyotes and foxes – even deer – have been spotted with greater frequency.
Others are less convinced.
“I can’t say that everybody has changed their thoughts on what’s around them,” said McChesney. “Some are just more concerned that raccoons are destroying their house.”