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Wary Departure

by Kevin Mack - PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
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Fall is a happy time at the PAWS Wildlife Center. During the autumn months many orphaned animals who have been in our care since spring reach the age of independence and are returned to their wild homes. Such was the case on the evening of October 6 as a group of young Raccoons who were raised at PAWS exited their release carriers and embraced freedom for the first time since infancy.

Raccoon releases are always very entertaining. While Raccoons have excellent senses of smell, hearing and sight, it is their extremely sensitive sense of touch that makes them so intriguing to watch. As they are transitioning back to the wild they simply must touch everything they encounter, absorbing as much or more information about objects through their paws as we do through a close visual inspection. As excited as they are about their new surroundings though, they are also a little nervous. More times than not, the Raccoons will spend a lot of time inspecting the carriers from which they were just released before striking off to explore unfamiliar territory.

The following photos will give you a glimpse at the October 6 release and how this group of Raccoons made the transition back to the wild.
Picture of Raccoon coming out of transport crate
When the Raccoons exited their carriers, we were standing about 25 yards away. That distance was apparently not quite enough for this Raccoon and he did not look happy to see us.
Picture of Raccoon examining transport crate
Predictably, one of the Raccoons immediately took an interest in the carrier she had just exited.
Picture of Raccoon examining transport crate
She was fascinated by the hard plastic handle on the carrier and she inspected it closely with her eyes, nose and paws.
Picture of Raccoons climbing on transport crate
She climbed on top of the carrier and this drew the attention of one of her former cagemates.
Picture of Raccoons sniffing the air upon release in the wild
The second Raccoon climbed on top of the carrier and seemingly noticed that there was nothing but sky above him. Meanwhile, the first Raccoon became curious about the rocky ground below.
Picture of Raccoon sniffing the air upon release in the wild
The second Raccoon climbed down and the first resumed her tactile inspection of the carrier’s handle. She seemed to zone everything else out as her paws wandered over the object.
Picture of Raccoon standing on hind legs to smell the air
Next, she caught a scent on the air and stood up to breathe it in more deeply.
Close up photo of Raccoon's face
You could see her focus shift from paws to nose, and she moved to the edge of the carrier, training her nose on some unseen animal or object in the distance.
Picture of Raccoon warily keeping an eye on the humans releasing him
The Raccoon who had been unhappy to see us was a more adventurous soul. He had already moved away from the carriers and was exploring a nearby grassy area. He still watched us with wary eyes.
Picture of Raccoon warily keeping an eye on the humans releasing her
As we watched the explorer, another head popped up out of the grass behind him. It was a little female who was also investigating the nearby landscape.
Picture of Raccoon feeling a rock found on the ground
The male Raccoon disappeared for a moment and then popped back up clasping a small rock between his forepaws. He turned the rock over and over in his paws, feeling it from every possible angle. He kept his eyes on us the whole time.
Picture of Raccoon looking one last time at the departing humans
Eventually, all of the Raccoons headed off into the brush. The last view we had was of the cautious male, still keeping an eye on us as if to ensure that we were not following him. It is always good to see this kind of wariness in an animal who has been in our care.
We take our commitment to keeping wild animals wild very seriously, avoiding contact with them as much as possible and never attempting to tame them or make them comfortable in our presence. Their wildness is a critical part of who they are. Although it may seem counter-intuitive when you consider the amount of time we have spent caring for these animals, seeing their distrust of us at their release brings nothing but positive feelings. It means we have done our job well. | About | Cats & Dogs | Wildlife | Get Involved | Events | Kids | Support PAWS

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