Raccoons look cute but they can prove to be dangerous — once they take over the world.
A species native to North America, raccoons are going to invade the rest of the world, upsetting fragile ecological balance in several regions because they are voracious omnivores. Since they are agricultural pests too, they will pose a serious threat to crops, orchards and livestock feed. They will also be a major human health risk as they carry rabies. The raccoon invasion will be one of the unseen effects of global warming which alters climatic conditions leading to a change in ecology.
A study published in ‘Scientific Reports’ says global warming would make climatic conditions in several parts of the world suitable for the spread of the invasive species of raccoons, especially in the northern Europe. The study creates projections based on current climatic conditions of raccoons and how these conditions will emerge in other parts of the world due to global warming.
“Our results reveal the raccoon’s tolerance to a very wide range of bioclimatic conditions, resulting in vast areas favourable to the species at a global scale. By highlighting the regions that are most likely to be colonized, these projections represent important tools in orienting and optimizing the monitoring efforts of the species,” says the study led by Vivien Louppe of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.
Though the raccoon is a carnivore native to the North American continent. it has been moved to different areas through pet trade and for commercial purposes such as exploitation of its fur.
Japan fell in love with raccoons in 1970s after a book popularised a pet raccoon called Rascal. A cartoon series based on the book increased demand for raccoons as pets which were imported in large numbers. A few decades later, raccoons have become a big nuisance in Japan rummaging through trash, stealing goods from vendors, feasting on crops and even damaging ancient temples.
“Since the first introductions in Europe in the early 20th century, raccoon populations have thrived and are currently present in all Western European countries. Some populations are also rapidly expanding from the center of Europe to the east, where our results identify highly favourable areas, extending in to Russia and the Middle East. Similarly, our results indicate highly favourable areas covering a large number of islands, such as diferent islands of the Caribbean and the Japanese archipelago, but also Madagascar, New Zealand, or Tasmania. Island environments are particularly vulnerable to the colonization of invasive alien species, notably carnivores, which are often poorly represented in native ecosystems,” the study says.
Raccoons could be more harmful to northern ecology where they will easily outcompete Arctic species.
“In northern Europe, the development of spaces that are favourable to the raccoon may represent an additional threat to boreal ecosystems, where temperature changes are predicted to be the highest. Arctic species are exposed to fewer competitors, predators, parasites and diseases. Potentially affected by climate change, these species can be even more vulnerable to the introduction of new competitors, predators and potential vectors of disease such as the raccoon. This risk appears all the more likely as carnivores might be better able to keep pace with climatic changes than other mammals,” says the study.