Monday, September 25, 2023

Belgium Struggles With Racoon Invasion, Environment Minister Plans on Controlling Them

Belgium is facing a challenge to control the population of raccoons, an invasive species that originated from North America and poses a threat to the native wildlife and biodiversity of Europe.

Raccoons are agile and adaptable animals that can thrive in various habitats, including urban and suburban areas.

They are omnivorous and opportunistic feeders, consuming a variety of plants and animals, as well as human food and garbage. They are also carriers of diseases and parasites that can affect other animals and humans.

How did raccoons invade Belgium?

(Photo : FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Raccoons invaded Belgium from two directions: from Germany and from France.

The first group of raccoons came from Germany, where they were introduced in the 1930s by the Nazi regime as a game animal for hunters and as a source of fur.

The second group came from France, where they established a population in the 1960s around a US airbase in the Aisne region, after American airmen released some animals that they had brought over as mascots.

From these two sources, raccoons spread across Belgium, mainly along waterways and forest edges.

According to biologist Vinciane Schockert, who is part of a team measuring the effect of raccoons on the local species, the raccoon population in Belgium started to grow significantly from around 2005.

She said that they found more tracks and roadkill of raccoons, indicating a larger presence of the animals. She also attributed the population growth to a series of mild winters, which favored the survival and reproduction of raccoons.

What are the impacts of raccoons on the environment and society?

Raccoons have negative impacts on both the environment and society in Belgium. They compete with and prey on native animals, such as birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and insects.

They also raid nests and eat eggs, endangering the reproduction of endangered species such as the black stork and the sand martin.

They can also transmit diseases and parasites to other animals and humans, such as rabies, leptospirosis, roundworms, and fleas.

Raccoons also cause problems for people, especially in urban and suburban areas, since they can damage property, crops, gardens, trash cans, and vehicles.

These “trash pandas” can even enter houses through cat flaps or other openings and steal food or make a mess, or even bite or scratch people or pets if they feel threatened or cornered.

Also Read: Rare Albino Racoon Spotted in Cleveland Metroparks is 1-in-20,000

How is Belgium dealing with the raccoon problem?

Authorities in Wallonia, the French-speaking southern region of Belgium, have launched a plan of action to manage the raccoon problem.

The plan involves trapping and shooting individual raccoons that pose a threat to endangered species or habitats, as well as raising awareness among local communities about the risks and prevention measures associated with raccoons.

Celine Tellier, Wallon environment minister, admitted that it is too late to eradicate the entire population of more than 50,000 raccoons that live in Belgium.

She said that they have to learn to live with them but also to control their numbers and avoid their spread. She advised people not to feed raccoons and to protect their homes from break-ins at night.

She also expressed her concern about the ethical issues of killing raccoons, which she described as “cute-looking beasts”.

The minister said that when it is necessary to destroy certain creatures, it must be done in the most humane way possible.

The plan has received mixed reactions from environmentalists and animal rights activists.

Some support the culling of raccoons as a necessary measure to protect native wildlife and biodiversity.

Others oppose it as cruel and ineffective, arguing that it will not stop the invasion or reduce the impacts of raccoons. They suggested alternative solutions, such as sterilization, vaccination, relocation, or coexistence.

Related article: Racoon Dogs Can Be the Next Non-Native and Invasive Pest in the UK

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