WildCare raises hundreds of orphaned mammals every year in our Wildlife Hospital.
We have many protocols in place to ensure that our orphaned baby patients grow up healthy and wild, and we always hope that we are teaching them the skills they’ll need to thrive once they are released.
But how do we know for sure that our released patients are successful once we’ve let them go?
While we don’t have the resources to satellite tag and track our animals in real time post-release, in 2006 we started microchipping our mammal patients prior to release.
The microchips that we use are the same as those used for domestic pets. They are not real-time tracking devices; the animal must be in hand to be scanned to reveal a chip. When the scanner detects a chip, it beeps and shows the chip’s individual number on the scanner screen.
In the case of domestic animals you would call the chip company and they would provide the owner information associated with that chip number. For our patients, we enter the chip number into our patient database and the patient record that is associated with that chip comes up. Because each WildCare patient is assigned their own individual patient number, we know that their history is uniquely their own.
Every single mammal patient that is admitted into WildCare’s Hospital is scanned in search of a microchip. It doesn’t happen often that we get a beep, but when we do, it is incredibly exciting for us to learn how our patient fared. Utilizing data from our database of wildlife patients, we can also gather a wide range of helpful information from a single beep, from how long an animal of a certain species may survive, to how far a particular animal may travel.
Imagine our team’s excitement when this raccoon elicited that beep! Upon researching our database, we discovered she had been a baby in care at WildCare in 2007!
She and her brother had arrived at the Wildlife Hospital after homeowners had botched an exclusion attempt. They had attempted to evict the mother raccoon from under their home, but had inadvertently locked her out of her den. By the time the two babies were rescued, they were too dehydrated and ill to attempt a reunite.
Only 110 grams in weight on intake, these babies were so young that their eyes were not even open! The two sibling raccoons were raised through various stages of development in Foster Care by trained WildCare Foster Care Volunteers JoLynn, Anne and Stephen.
With our team’s diligent care, the orphaned raccoons graduated from every-three-hours bottle feeds to, months later, learning to eat solids and forage for their own food. As they grew, they graduated to larger naturalized enclosures and took advantage of every opportunity to exercise and explore (see tree climbing to the right and more photos of “supervised play time” below!)
After five months in care (a typical care interval for orphaned baby raccoons) they were ready for release! Because they were late season babies and the winter weather can be particularly challenging for juveniles trying to make their way, this pair was slow-released near JoLynn’s home on Christmas Eve 2007.
For many years afterwards, JoLynn frequently saw a raccoon passing through her yard, foraging for grubs and eating the persimmons from her tree. The raccoon was wild and one of several in the area, but she had a shorter than usual tail with oddly textured fur, likely from a bout of mange. The tail made her recognizable.
In spring this particular raccoon would even bring her babies through the yard to teach them how to forage. JoLynn liked to imagine that she was one of the rescued raccoons she had cared for but had no way of knowing for sure.
When staff tracked down this raccoon’s old patient records in our database (she was patient #1107 in 2007), the records confirmed that she had been slow released near JoLynn’s house. A glance at her tail confirmed that this was the mother raccoon JoLynn had been seeing every spring, and that she was one of WildCare’s Foster Care babies. It was particularly amazing for JoLynn to confirm that the successful, adult, very wild mama raccoon who had been tracking through her yard for all these years was in fact that same baby, and that she had maintained a territory that included JoLynn’s persimmon tree for 13 years!
For all of us who care for raccoons at WildCare, it is wonderful to have concrete proof that our protocols for care produce healthy wild animals that not only survive, but also successfully raise young of their own!
Conventional wisdom is that the average lifespan for a raccoon in the wild is 2 – 3 years. They can live 15 – 20 years in captivity, but even by that standard, this raccoon is elderly!That she has survived this long truly is extraordinary.
It hadn’t all been easy for this mother raccoon, however.
Her exam in the Clinic showed that she was very thin and dehydrated with lots of fleas, and teeth that are significantly worn. She also has a healing fracture on her back leg, probably from being hit by a car. Although it’s not a new injury, the injured knee was what probably led to this raccoon’s being found and brought to WildCare. She was spotted “sleeping” in the playground of a preschool and, when she didn’t run away as a normal raccoon should, the school staff called Marin Humane to capture and transport her to our care. Her current prognosis is “guarded,” as her condition and advanced age make healing difficult.
WildCare does our work to heal and rescue wild animal patients like this raccoon every single day. We know we’re making a difference for the individual animals, and for the people who rescue them, but it is a rare experience to have solid evidence that the animals in our care have thrived in the wild for far beyond the average lifespan for their species.
Special thanks to JoLynn, Anne and Stephen for sharing their photos and memories of this extraordinary raccoon! And to all of our dedicated Foster Care Volunteers who spend countless hours caring for these orphans!
These photos were taken by Anne and Stephen when our raccoon patient and her brother were in Foster Care. “Supervised play time” includes fun with water features, interesting things to eat, and even tree climbing, all skills they’ll need in the wild! Click each image to see a larger version.