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by Stan Tekiela
© NatureSmart

November 5, 2018

It wasn’t easy carrying the oversized dog kennels. The cargo inside where shifting from side to side throwing off our balance. Now and then, a tiny furry hand would reach through the metal bars grasping at the air. We carried the boxes containing the wild contents through the woods and down a long and wide trail. We crossed a small wooden bridge that spanned a slow moving shallow stream.

Here is where we found the perfect spot. A small flooded area of the forest provided a pond-like setting. Just through the tall trees was the edge of a small lake and just behind us was of course the slow moving stream. All the elements that make up a perfect new home for these fuzzy critters.

I was expecting that as soon as we opened the small metal doors the wild critters inside would run out and head straight for a tree. So we stood back and opened the doors and waited for the furry of action. But no, nothing happened. Slowly over a few minutes the fuzzy, black masked bandit emerged from the crate.

As everyone knows I am crazy about wildlife conservation. On today’s outing I was providing a wild place for the good people at the Wildlife Rehab Center of Minnesota (WRC), a non-profit organization that provides quality medical care and rehabilitation for all injured, sick and orphaned wild animals, to release some orphaned raccoons. Earlier this summer a bunch of orphaned baby raccoons where brought into the center. Without a mother they would not have lived. They were raised by the hard working and dedicated staff at the WRC. Now they were mostly grown up and ready to be released. After several minutes, one by one, all five raccoons exited the container and started to explore. This was their first time to roam freely.

Raccoons are a medium sized animal that is native only to the Americas from Central America up across the United States and into Canada. Their common name comes from the Algonquian Indian word arougbcoune, meaning “he scratches with his hands”. Raccoons are known for their ability to open objects with their hands such as doors, coolers, and latches. Tha also use their nimble fingers to feel around in murky water to catch things like frogs and crayfish. They likes to wash the food in water before eating by rolling it around and around in-between its paws. However they are really not washing their meal but rather just getting it wet to allow them to better feel which parts are edible and which are not. Apparently the water increases the sensitivity of their paws.

They are great tree climbers, spend a lot of their time high up in trees. They descend the tree trunk either head first of tail first. Their hind legs and feet can rotate nearly 180 degrees so that the hind toes are always pointing up the tree and support them as they descend head first.  

They are active mostly at night but can be seen during the evening. They spend their days sleeping in hollow logs or other cavities or even in drain pipes. They are usually solitary animals but recent studies show they are much more social than we thought. Females will sometimes stay with sisters for many years. Unrelated males will often share a territory. Females don’t wonder very far while males have huge territories of upwards of 12,000 acres.

It was so much fun to watch the Raccoons explore their new home. One in particular found the flooded area and started to explore. You could see the joy and excitement as he run through the water splashing around just for the fun of it. He would pick up sticks with both his paws and teeth and carry them around. Suddenly he would jump up on a tree trunk as if to climb the tree but just look around and jump back down into the water splashing about.

I was able to capture some fun images of these happy critters as they began a new stage of their life. A life in the wild where they belong. We wished them well and gathered up the kennels and hiked back, leaving the raccoons explore and be wild. Until next time…

Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and photograph wildlife. He can be followed on www.facebook.com or twitter.com. He can be contacted via his web page at www.naturesmart.com


Photo by Stan Tekiela

The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.

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