Raccoons are, more often than not, innocuous. The masked critters can even be cute. Yet the nocturnal animals often raid trash bins and create a bit of a headache for people who live in close proximity to their habitats. That pales, though, to a new kind of behaviors that have some city dwellers on edge.
Raccoons in Central Park in New York are dying off becasue of a virus. Before it proves fatal, though, the virus causes “zombie” like behavior.
“Of 26 raccoons found dead inside the park since June 24,” Fox writes, “two tested positive for the canine distemper virus, which doesn’t affect humans but can spread to unvaccinated dogs, officials with the city Health and Parks departments revealed on Saturday. The other 24 are believed to be infected by distemper because their deaths were clustered in such a short time and area.”
The distemper is causing unusual behaviors in the raccoons.
“They looked like they were circulating, wandering, having spasms,” said Dr. Sally Slavinski, an assistant director at the Health Department. “Some of the raccoons had some sort of nasal discharge.”
It is not completely unusual to see raccoons in the day time, though it is uncommon. Raccoons with distemper may appear to be confused. The sometimes seem uncoordinated. They may also lose their fear of humans and appear tame, posing a distinct danger to humans that approach them.
There’s a flip side, too. Some of the raccoons that appear domesticated or calm one moment, will suddenly turn aggressive.
“None of the raccoons have tested positive for rabies so far,” Fox adds. “Once authorities ruled out that deadly virus, they sent samples from two dead raccoons to a state lab. The city found out Friday that they were dealing with distemper.”
Humans can’t contract distemper. Dogs, though, can. Central Park is a popular spot for urban dog owners.
Dog owners are being advised to keep their pets vaccinated, and to maintain control of their dogs while in the affected areas.
“Now I’m freaked out. Holy moly!” Bob Cucurullo, told Fox. He was in the park with his beagle terrier Charlie. “He sees a raccoon once a week, and he goes nuts after it. Now I’ll have to be careful where I let him go.”