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Raccoons in Alberta? Increased sightings indicate they're moving further north

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A northern Alberta photographer says he was shocked to find a raccoon in footage captured by one of his trail cameras last month. 

When asked why he spends hours upon hours setting up cameras on crown land south of Grande Prairie, photographer Amos Wiebe says he likes to "meet these creatures face to face."

By "these creatures," he means bears, wolves, lynx – the sort of animals known to inhabit northern Alberta and which he has built a business on photographing. 

But just before midnight on Sept. 12, Wiebe's cameras captured something they never had before: a raccoon. 

In the footage, a tail moves, then a head with glowing eyes turns toward the camera. The raccoon eventually trots to a tree stump where it pauses for a moment before leaving the frame. 

"At first it was like, 'That might be fisher on camera. We've always wanted to get a fisher on camera…No, it's a raccoon!" Wiebe recalled. 

"It's probably not good," he told CTV News Edmonton. "They're cute but anybody that knows raccoons, they can be a big pest." 

SIGHTINGS 'RARE' BUT 'INCREASING': BIOLOGIST

Wiebe's cameras were set up about 20 kilometres south of Grande Prairie, a city of more than 67,000 about 450 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. 

According to University of Alberta biologist and professor Colleen Cassady St. Clair, raccoons have been found in Canada's northern territories. 

However, she called the animal an "urban exploiter," a creature so skilled at hacking humans' garbage bins and climbing to fruit or eggs in trees that it has earned the reputation of "trash panda."

She said sightings in Edmonton are "rare" but that the number of reports she receives from residents are increasing.

A raccoon is captured by a trail camera in Edmonton in this undated photo. (Credit: University of Alberta and City of Edmonton)

She was recently notified of raccoons in the Big Lake area just outside city limits.

"Climate change could be playing a role, but raccoons have been detected as far north as the Yukon, so I'm not sure they're limited by temperature. They might be limited by moisture and the Edmonton area is getting wetter with climate change," she said, explaining the animal likes to use water to learn about its food. 

"So it might be the dryness, more so than the coldness, of our winters that limits raccoons." 

The problem with the Big Lake report was that it wasn't a single raccoon spotted, Cassady St. Clair said, but a family. 

Family of raccoons spotted in the Big Lake, Alta., area on Sept. 22, 2022.

"If there's now families of raccoons being spotted in places like that, it means that they are establishing a breeding population and they have the capacity to increase exponentially."

"We're starting to see more and more skunks around," Wiebe said. "We used to have hardly any 20 years ago and now we're littered with skunks, so you gotta wonder where this is going. Maybe we'll have a lot of raccoon problems down here down the road."

RACCOON RISKS

While some find them cute, raccoons are a problem, Cassady St. Clair emphasized. 

Not only do they destroy property, but they are also carriers of several parasites and diseases that can be passed to humans and pets. Rabies is the best known but is less common than roundworm, or Baylisascaris, the biologist told CTV News Edmonton. Raccoon roundworm can cause serious illness in people and dogs. 

Cassady St. Clair says Edmonton should be considering taking action now to prevent the raccoon population from growing. 

"They're really cute animals, they're so clever, that you can't help but be fascinated by raccoons. But by the time citizens have realized they really don't want them living among them, it's too late," she said. 

In a statement, the city told CTV News Edmonton raccoons have been in the city for more than 25 years but are not monitored.

On the "extremely rare occasion" the city receives a complaint, a wildlife contractor or park ranger will investigate, the spokesperson wrote.

And if raccoons become a nuisance on private property, they're advised to contact a pest management company.

NO REMOVAL POLICY IN ALBERTA

In a statement to CTV News Edmonton, Alberta Environment and Parks said that while Alberta's raccoon population has traditionally resided largely in the province's southeast, in recent years, raccoon territory has expanded to central and northeastern Alberta.

On its website, it encourages residents dealing with raccoons to remove potential food – including bird feed – from their property, dismantle their dens, and contact the local municipality or pest control companies for help.

It also says people should wear protective gear when clearing out dens and advises pet owners to keep their animals' shots up to date.

Alberta Environment and Parks also told CTV News Edmonton that while raccoons are not native to Alberta, population numbers are not expanding at an alarming rate and – at this point – Alberta does not intend to develop policy to take action to reduce or remove raccoons.

Cassady St. Clair also asked residents to make a report on the public crowdsourced site iNaturalist

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