Returning wild animals to their natural habitat is always a very moving experience, but in the case of young Raccoons it can also be quite humorous. They are curious, but very cautious, and they explore with all of their senses. They are especially focused on their tactile sense, and they use their sensitive forepaws to investigate everything within reach.
More than forty orphaned Raccoon kits were raised at PAWS this summer, and the majority of them were released over a one month period that began on September 12. A dozen kits in total were released that night at a large, wooded wetland complex in a King County Natural Area. The Raccoons wasted little time heading for a nearby stream to turn over rocks and look for tasty morsels.
Six more Raccoons were released after dark on September 20, in a large King County Natural Area outside North Bend. On October 2, a dozen more were released at another King County property along the Green River.
The final orphaned Raccoon releases of the year took place on October 9 when nine kits were released at two sites near Woodinville. The first four were released next to a pond surrounded by low, brushy cover. There was still enough light left to capture some good images as they took their first tentative steps back in the wild.
After their carrier was placed at the edge of the pond, the Raccoons seemed eager to get out and explore.
They exercised caution as they exited the carrier, looking, listening, and sniffing to see if the coast was clear.
Once they were out, two of the Raccoons decided that the carrier was the most interesting thing in their immediate surroundings. One checked out the side while another climbed on top.
The Raccoon on top of the carrier became momentarily obsessed with the handle. He felt every inch of it with his forepaws and at one point even nibbled on it a little bit.
After satisfying his curiosity about the carrier's handle, the Raccoon noticed the nearby plants. He went in for a closer look as well as a tactile inspection.
At one point, all four Raccoons were milling about right next to the carrier. One of the Raccoons placed both of his paws on the top of the carrier and he momentarily looked like a bar patron waiting for his drink.
Eventually, curiosity got the best of one of the Raccoons. He moved a short distance from the carrier to investigate a nearby stick.
The others moved that direction as well, and one took notice of the pond after he finally stopped focusing on the carrier.
Now two of the Raccoons were moving away from the carrier and toward some nearby cover, one was staring at the pond, and the last Raccoon seemed to be trying to make a decision. Should he stay by the familiar carrier? Or should he be brave and set off with the others.
He chose to follow the group, and soon the Raccoon fixating on the pond chose to do the same.
All four Raccoons disappeared into the brush, embracing their newfound freedom together.
- Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist