sLittle guys are cute too – anyone reading the first results of the ZOWIAC research project would rather have nothing to do with raccoons and raccoon dogs. At least not outside the zoo. ZOWIAC stands for “Environmental Impacts of Wild Animals and Invasive Carnivore Wildlife”; One of the project leaders is Frankfurt zoologist Sven Klempel. He and his colleagues want to find out what the exotic species raccoon dogs, raccoons and American minks – also known as minks – are doing in the new European settlement areas. Scientists rely on the help of non-university experts, such as fishermen and other interested citizens.
on the site zowiac.eu There is detailed information about the project. An app has also been developed that citizen researchers can use to report sightings of young predators. Biologists working with Klimpel collect animal distribution data, evaluate feces and blood samples, and document native species that the imported fur vectors feed on. They require attention not only because they may prey on endangered species and cause damage to buildings and agriculture. As carriers of disease, they can sometimes pose a danger to humans, ZOWIAC’s interim results indicate.
According to a Klimpel report, the project has so far examined about 350 raccoons from various habitats, as well as 95 raccoon dogs and 50 minks from several federal states, including Hesse. The researchers, in collaboration with the Friedrich Loeffler Institute, looked for viruses in about 200 blood samples from raccoons and raccoon dogs. They have repeatedly discovered West Nile virus. In one percent of human cases, the infection they cause can affect the nervous system and can be fatal.
According to Clempel, genetic analyzes at the ZOWIAC project have also shown that raccoon dogs can serve as a reservoir host for the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Larger parasites also feel comfortable in fur animals. In the examined raccoons, 22 different types of parasites were detected, four of which can affect humans. These include the raccoon roundworm, which is found in 95 percent of animals. Scientists have so far identified 18 species of parasites in raccoon dogs, including the lung hairworm and the fox tapeworm. In rare cases, the latter can cause fatal diseases in humans. In Clempel’s view, relocations can often be expected in the future, particularly in cities – where raccoons are increasingly infested.
The observations of biologists and their assistants also confirm the suspicion that raccoons and raccoon dogs are harmful to domestic fauna. Red-listed species such as the yellow frog and common frog are found in the stomachs of raccoons. Raccoon dogs ate, among other things, hares and grass frogs. Clempel concludes that invasive carnivores “can have an enormous negative impact on local ecosystems and, above all, on biodiversity.” This risk is likely to become even greater in the coming years, because both predatory species have not yet occupied all the ecological niches that they can conquer in Europe, wrote the professor from Goethe University.
He is convinced that steps must be taken to prevent the invaders from spreading further. In Hesse, for example, it is necessary to hunt raccoons in certain areas regardless of closed seasons. Since this alone is not sufficient to adequately reduce the population, other methods must be used, such as castration and subsequent release. On the other hand, the zoologist doesn’t think much of another strategy animal lovers might prefer: “Resettlement of captured raccoons is not legally possible and will only postpone the problem.”