Immigrant Rascals: Raccoons Invade Germany
The raccoon population in Germany is booming -- much to the displeasure of hunters and wine makers.
Ursula Stöter with one of her raccoons. She likes them. Most don't.
And other species are losing out too. "The raccoon has become the scourge of the bird world," says Bernd Möller from the Brandenburg hunters' association. "They get their little paws on everything and they love to steal the eggs of ducks on nature reserves."
Möller says the raccoon spreads parasites and illnesses and other animals don't know how to defend themselves against the sneaky foreign thief. "That's why we have to make sure that we keep the population down," he says.
Ursula Stöter, who runs a hobby zoo in Krangen in Brandenburg where she raises raccoons she has rescued from the wild, disagrees. "When there are problems with bird broods, there are always several reasons," she says, adding that humans are always the biggest problem.
Raccoons were originally introduced to Germany from the United States as a supposedly clever idea. "Their furs were in demand and expensive," explains Frank-Uwe Michler, a raccoon specialist in Müritz national park in the north-eastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. "Then people had the idea to breed the animals here."
The first breeding pair were let out in the state of Hesse in the 1930s. Other raccoons managed to escape from a fur farm near Berlin. Now the two regions are the hotbeds of the German raccoon population.
Like many animals considered pests, raccoons share several characteristics with humans. They are clever, adaptable omnivores, equipped with thumbs which allow them to, among other things, wash their food -- a habit which earned them their name in German, Waschbären ("wash bears").
Meanwhile the wily raccoons have realised they will probably prosper better in urban areas, far from hunters' guns. "There are now significantly more raccoons living in cities than in the countryside," says Michler.
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