Wishing them children and grandchildren
Recently the orphaned raccoons that have been in my care were released back to the wild. Our journey began in early May, when over a period of a week or so, six babies from four different mothers, each with their own sad story, came to our home to be raised. When they arrived, each one was small enough to hold in my hand, their eyes and ears hadn’t yet opened, and they were helpless little bundles of fur. Their distinctive mask and tail rings weren’t visible yet, and by looking at them, most people would not know that they were raccoons.
The task of raising baby raccoons keeps one busy 24/7. Initially they had to be bottle fed every four hours. They were curled up in a small crate, with a heating pad and soft blankets. At this point all they did was eat and sleep and make wonderful little noises. Just like human babies, they created a lot of laundry and dirty bottles.
When raccoons are between four and five months old, it is time to return them to nature. They will have grown and developed an amazing amount along the way. There is a release criteria that each one must meet before the whole group can go. Raccoons are social animals and these juveniles, although not related, have bonded together as a family, and will return to the wild as a group.
They have met the following requirements: the appropriate age and weight, adult teeth coming in, passed beginning, intermediate, and advanced tree climbing, been live bait tested, recognize their natural foods, been healthy and with the same group for over a month, had their vaccinations, and be parasite free, etc. They also have been very well fed, so they have a generous layer of fat to help them through their transition to the wild.
Due to the generosity of land owners, we have release sites around the county where these orphans are welcome. The release sites have met qualifications as well for the species that are to be released there.
Raccoons are nocturnal, so we released just before dusk. A group of six of us, which included the land owners, carried the crates into a beautiful, woodland canyon with a gently bubbling creek. It was an absolutely perfect spot for them. As we silently watched, the crates were opened and the curious raccoons gradually came out. After inspecting the creek, they all decided to climb the trees. Raccoons are arboreal, so this is exactly what they should be doing.
After an hour or so of observing the newly wild youngsters, we packed up the crates, and quietly left. By this time, three raccoons were up about 60 feet in one tree, and the others were very high up a tree right next to them. Knowing that I will never see them again, I’d like to think they were watching me as I walked back to the car.
“Have a safe journey my little wild ones – I wish you children and grandchildren.”
And so, once again, my life returns to normal until baby season begins anew next spring. In the meantime I consider myself so fortunate to do what I do, to work with wildlife, to help them in some small way, and to get a glimpse into their world. For me, it’s pure magic.
Sharon Ponsford has lived in Glen Ellen since 1988. She volunteers with the Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at email@example.com.