Here's a surprising new weapon in the war against raccoons
Saturday, February 27, 2016, 2:56 PM - Raccoons have had a detrimental effect on B.C.'s Gulf Islands as the mammals often gorge on seafood along the shoreline. However, ecologists may have a simple solution.
For over a century top-level predators have been hunted by humans in the area. As a result, certain populations of animals like raccoons have boomed and now they are taking a big bite out of local crab and fish populations.
"Some of these beaches on the Gulf Islands are simply loaded with raccoons," study author and University of Victoria PhD candidate Justin Suraci told CBC. "They barely ever look up from foraging."
However, in a study published Wednesday in Nature Communications, researchers found they could scare away raccoons with the sound of barking dogs.
"We found that raccoons substantially reduce their foraging when they're perceiving the presence of scary dogs all around them," he said.
Turns out hearing the sound of an aggressive predator led to a reduction in their feeding, helping to restore some measure of natural balance.
"They spend 66 per cent less time on the shoreline eating and that reduction in their feeding was sufficient to have a huge benefit for the crabs and fish that they eat," Suraci added.
Suraci and his colleagues recorded various sounds from barking dogs to sea lions. After setting up speaker systems on several beaches, they discovered the raccoons took no notice to the sounds of sea lions and continued eating. Meanwhile, they reacted almost immediately to the sounds of dog barking.
Unfortunately, the ecologist believes the raccoons may soon overcome the fear and it will eventually take the reintroduction of natural predators like cougars, wolves or bears to scare off the raccoons.
"Our research definitely supports the idea that the natural re-colonization of large carnivores should be supported," Suraci said.
While local residents may not entertain the idea of cougars being reestablished on the Gulf Islands, through proper outreach and education, Suraci says communities could learn how to coexist with the animals.
Watch more: Do you Raccoon problems? Keep them away with this handy hack