Raccoon babies lose mom to trapping

August 24, 2023

Two orphan raccoons and a marsh rabbit were among the sixty-seven animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a white winged dove, a barred owl, a yellow-crowned night-heron, a Brazilian free-tailed bat and a Florida softshell turtle.

Two Raccoons Fall from Nest

Two neonatal raccoons fell from their nest in Eastern Collier County. Residents using the community pool found a baby and called for assistance. Hospital staff asked questions to better understand the situation and discovered a nuisance wildlife trapper had trapped and removed a raccoon from the area a few days prior, thus leaving her babies orphaned.

Knowing that most raccoons have an average of three babies per litter, hospital staff asked if anyone from the facilities department could get a ladder and check the tree for other babies. Residents mentioned the facilities staff was unwilling to assist. Hospital staff advised the residents to keep a look out for other babies because their hunger will cause them to move around the nest searching for their mother and they would fall, just as the first one had.

Hospital staff remove a nestling raccoon from its transport box upon arrival at the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. The baby raccoon and its sibling were orphaned after a nuisance wildlife removal service trapped the mother raccoon several days prior and left the babies behind.

Hospital staff coordinated with a Wildlife Hospital Volunteer to meet one of the community residents near the intersection of Collier Boulevard and Immokalee Road. While details for the plan to meet were being arranged, a second baby raccoon fell from the nest and was transported with its sibling to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital. 

The two nestling raccoons were under two weeks old and were completely dependent on their mother for survival. They arrived weak, lethargic, thin, dehydrated and had suffered internal injuries when they fell from their nest. Neither baby survived. 

Humans need to understand how our actions can unwittingly attract wildlife near homes, yards and businesses. In this situation, the trashcans at the pool contained discarded food and provided an easy food source for the mother raccoon. Raising her babies increased the demand for food she needed to sustain herself and her babies.

If given the chance, any animal is going to take an easy meal, especially a lactating mother. For this, she was trapped, killed and her helpless babies were left to slowly die.

The continued loss of habitat for new communities being built in Eastern Collier County is going to displace a tremendous number of wild animals forcing many of these creatures to adapt to living near humans. Trapping and killing these animals isn’t the answer.

Trapping is a never ending cycle because removing an animal opens up the territory for another animal to move in, if you don’t stop the action(s) that are drawing the animal to your yard or business, the “nuisance” situation will continue with the wild animals paying the price with their lives.

Prevention Tips

Prevent situations that draw animals into close proximity with people. Keep trash bins securely closed and don’t put trash cans out to the curb until garbage day. Do not feed pets outdoors, keep grills locked up, pick up ripe fruit that has fallen from trees and make sure there are no small openings in your roof that would allow wildlife to gain access to an attic or crawlspace. There are many ways to humanely encourage an animal to move on, please call the wildlife hospital for suggestions if you feel you have a “nuisance” wildlife situation.

If you still think hiring a trapper is the only solution to a wildlife situation, then the very least you can do is ensure the trapper is responsible and doesn’t leave any helpless baby animals behind to slowly die from dehydration and starvation. 

Marsh Rabbit Struggles in a Pool

The marsh rabbit was rushed to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital after a couple found the baby struggling in their pool.

The young rabbit was wet, rigid, cold and in shock. Staff placed the rabbit on oxygen in a warmed animal intensive care unit (aicu) and monitored its condition. After an hour, the rabbit was slightly less rigid and its body temperature was normal enabling staff to provide pain medication and electrolytes. An antibiotic was added to the treatment plan since there was concern it may have ingested water while floundering in the pool. The marsh rabbit was returned to the aicu to rest. 

A young marsh rabbit receives an antibiotic. The rabbit was admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital after being found struggling in a swimming pool.

The marsh rabbit was quite young and required three supplemental formula feedings spaced out during the day and night. The rabbit continues to recover in the mammal room at the wildlife hospital.

Admissions of wild animals rescued from swimming pools are very common at our facility. In fact, an eastern cottontail found in a swimming pool was admitted two days prior to the marsh rabbit. Aside from the obvious danger of drowning, chlorine can be very harmful to an animal’s skin, eyes and is dangerous if ingested or aspirated. If you find an animal that has fallen into a pool, act quickly and use the skimmer net to rescue it from drowning. Bring animals to the wildlife hospital for immediate care.

Hypothermia is a real danger and can be fatal. Most animals have ingested water while struggling to keep from drowning and are exhausted from the experience requiring time to rest and medical attention.

Prevention Tips

Various solutions to reduce wildlife drownings exist.

A perimeter fence is the most effective solution. There are buoyant ramps specifically designed to attach to the side of a pool so if an animal accidentally falls in, it can use the ramp to escape. These floating ramps should be placed securely along the edge of the pool in multiple locations because an animal that has fallen in will travel the perimeter of the pool trying to find a foothold to escape. A partially deflated pool float may work as long as one end is under water and the other end is secured to the edge of the pool and forms a ramp. A long wooden board can also serve as a ramp. Make it a habit to regularly check your pool to ensure an unsuspecting animal hasn’t fallen in.

Special Thanks

As baby mammal admissions are increasing, our need for fleece snuggle pouches has increased. Hospital staff put a call out to Conservancy Volunteers for help making snuggle pouches and the response was phenomenal.

One volunteer worked with her 8-year old granddaughter, Kendall, in New York on her first community service project and made over twenty pouches. Thank you to everyone who put their sewing talents to good use. We are fully stocked with fleece snuggle pouches and are already using many of them for our current patients.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit the Conservancy to view all of the amazing work done at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. If you read this article, you know the von Arx Wildlife Hospital is busy and we need your help. Please consider becoming a volunteer. One four-hour shift a week isn’t a huge time commitment, yet the amount of help provided during that four-hour period truly makes an astounding difference. If you are unable to volunteer, support our efforts by making a donation or becoming a member. We receive no government funding; monetary support and memberships are vital in helping us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

Joanna Fitzgerald is director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, Florida 34102. Call 239-262-2273 or see conservancy.org.