For the first time ever, researchers in New Brunswick are trying to calculate the total population of raccoons in the province.
For the next two weeks, researchers will be trapping, tagging and releasing the animals at 14 different sites. It’s all in an effort to help the government better understand the best way to run its rabies vaccination program for raccoons. After these initial trappings, a second series will take place later, and from those two sample numbers, researchers can find an approximate estimate.
“We’ve been running our baiting vaccinations program for three years now with only a general idea of the amounts of baits versus the amounts of animals we are vaccinating,” Mike Allan, the provincial rabies coordinator told the CBC.
In 2014, the province started its rabies vaccination program, which involves dropping baits with vaccine from airplanes. Since then, there have been 30 reported cases of the rabies virus in New Brunswick.
Earlier this spring, the province appealed to the public to help prevent the spread of rabies to pets and livestock by asking that all garbage and compost containers are kept secured. The province also urged residents to keep pet food indoors, since it can attract animals.
Joe Nocera, a professor of biology at the University of New Brunswick who is also working on the program, says that raccoons have a greater threat of passing on the rabies virus since they thrive in areas that are in close proximity to humans.
“In Toronto, they call them “trash pandas”, but all they’re doing is taking advantage of evolution, which allows them to avail themselves of resources that somebody else isn’t using,” Nocera told the CBC. “And so, it’s actually very clever and admirable that they are able to survive in conditions that other species aren’t.”
Indeed, the raccoon population in Toronto is massive—and increasing. Earlier this spring, the city of Toronto released new “raccoon proof” compost bins to prevent the furry bandits from breaking in for midnight snacks. So far, they seem to be working.