Hipsters vs. Raccoons: Critters Continue To Overrun Brooklyn

A Clinton Hill raccoon, captured on film in 2008. (umbrooklynborn.blogspot.com)

People move to New York to get away from the annoyances of the suburbs—the small-mindedness, the boredom, the raccoons who overturn their garbage cans.

The city’s curative properties when it comes to small-mindedness and boredom are debatable, but one thing is for certain—the outer-boroughs offer no escape when it comes to raccoons. Brooklyn, in particular, is overrun with the nocturnal beasts these days, causing confusion for newly-arrived and long-time residents alike.

Case in point, my house in Bed-Stuy had a bit of a raccoon problem this spring after a mother raccoon and her four babies settled into the hollowed-out tree stump in my neighbor’s backyard. Maybe she liked dreaming of the day she might feast on one of the chickens fenced into our front yard, maybe she liked the cat food that was often left on the porch for a favorite neighborhood stray, but she soon took to making daily trips to our house with her brood in tow. One afternoon, a roommate and I watched as she made herself at home on the neighbor’s front stoop. A man walking by stopped to stare at the spectacle before turning to us and asking, “Is she yours?”

We assured the man that she was most definitely not ours. The exchange produced some laughs from our other roommates and a discussion of how, exactly, to remove the creatures humanely (have-a-heart traps and trips to the  forests of New Jersey were discussed). Residents can call 311, but the city does not remove wildlife unless it’s an immediate threat to human health—i.e. rabid. Simply being a rabies vector species, as raccoons are, isn’t enough. Nor are most exterminators equipped to deal with creatures like raccoons or squirrels, so residents must find a wildlife specialist if they’re serious about removing the beasts. Or, in true New York fashion, one can resign oneself to living side-by-side with their annoying new neighbors.

Brownstoner recently noted that raccoon sightings have been flooding in—from Clinton Hill, Greenpoint, Park Slope and Greenwood Heights. Two summers ago, the problem was so bad—one Park Slope raccoon found his way into a kitchen drawer and suffocated to death there—that several local politicians proposed making the city’s wildlife management approach more active.

The population’s alleged growth has caused much speculation. Has it really been increasing, or are displaced raccoons and the increase in 311 calls simply a result of the borough’s development, pushing raccoons into human encounters much like construction sites push rats into the surrounding neighborhood? Others wonder if the warm winter and spring might have had something to do with it. Or perhaps raccoons just enjoy munching on all the gourmet food scraps in Brooklyn garbage cans these days?

kvelsey@observer.com Hipsters vs. Raccoons: Critters Continue To Overrun Brooklyn