Celebrating the wildlife releases of the PAWS Wildlife Center
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by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist
On Thursday, September 16th, I was parked outside of a King County Parks and Recreation facility in Renton. I had arranged to meet a park manager who would be assisting with the evening's release, but it was still about 10 minutes until our scheduled 6 pm meeting time. I decided to check on my charges to see how well they had weathered their journey so far. I opened the truck canopy door to find three masked faces peering out at me from behind bars. I suddenly felt less like a naturalist and more like a police officer, hauling a gang of captured fugitives around in a paddy wagon. In addition to the three little bandits that I could see, there were three more in a carrier directly behind them. But none of these six little beings were criminals. Instead, they were all victims. Innocent though they were, they did end up serving time. They had spent the three months leading up to this evening in a rehabilitation program designed to give them the skills they would need to make it on the outside.
Admitted to PAWS as infants, these three raccoons are now ready for release.
The six raccoons in the back of the truck had been deprived of the benefit of passing their childhood with their mothers. Whether by accident or by human malice, all six of them had been orphaned at a very young age. The three that were peering out at me from the carrier were siblings. They were removed from an attic in Tacoma, and were dropped off at a vet clinic before being transferred to PAWS. Two of the raccoons in the carrier behind them were siblings that were found on the steps to an apartment building, and the third was an unrelated raccoon found near a road. All six raccoons had been thin, weak, and dehydrated infants when they arrived at the PAWS Wildlife Center. Now, on the day of their release, they were plump, healthy, and fully capable of fending for themselves. Most importantly, they were still very wary of humans, and the three siblings began to snort and grunt to let me know that they preferred not to be looked at by the likes of me. Satisfied that they were as yet unfazed by their car ride, I closed the truck canopy to leave them in peace. A few minutes later, Scott Snyder of King County Parks arrived, and we were on our way to the release site.
The raccoons were to be released on a 1000 acre piece of King County property along the Green River. In addition to the river, the area was crisscrossed with salmon bearing streams, and a number of forested wetlands dotted the landscape. With abundant food sources, plenty of water, ample large trees for den sites, and no motor vehicle traffic, the site was a raccoon's paradise. The only road that led into the area was gated, and only King County personnel had the key.
We arrived at the release site at 7 pm and, after unlocking the gate, we traveled down the gravel road as it wound towards the bottom of a wooded slope. Near the bottom, a bridge crossed a small stream, and this is where we made our first stop. It had begun to rain, and I wasn't sure how the raccoons would react this fact. I wasn't concerned for their well-being. Raccoons spend much of their time in water, using their sensitive paws to search for food in the muck of a wetland or stream bottom. Their thick fur provides more than enough insulation, and it sheds water with a quick shake of the raccoon's body.
Three raccoons patiently await their release.
I grabbed the carrier containing the three sibling raccoons from the back of the truck. I half-walked, half-slid down an embankment next to the bridge, and I placed the carrier right next to the stream. After opening the door, I retreated back up the slope to the bridge above. By the time I reached the bridge, the raccoons were already out. Sensitive paws touched everything in sight as the raccoons drank in their new surroundings. One of them approached the stream and dipped his paw into the running water. He quickly retracted the paw as if he was startled, either by the temperature or by the stream's current. He then joined his siblings at a nearby puddle and all three of them made an effort to feel every inch of the muddy bottom. We decided to move on to release the remaining three raccoons, and let the three siblings continue to explore in our absence.
The second group of raccoons was released along a thickly vegetated section of stream that ran through a large meadow. A dense line of trees along the stream provided them with suitable cover to disperse. I placed the carrier next to the stream and removed the raccoons' last barrier to freedom. Two raccoons exited immediately and headed downstream. They entered a stand of sapling trees that bordered the stream. Although they disappeared from sight, the raccoons' progress could still be followed by watching the trees. Eager to touch everything they could, the raccoons pawed each trunk that they passed, causing the top of the young trees to sway. It looked as if a very slow moving breeze was moving through the trees and randomly changing direction. The third raccoon exited the carrier and headed upstream. He quickly disappeared into thick cover. By this time the rain had nearly stopped, and it was clear that the raccoons did not have an interest in retaining their ready-made shelter. I retrieved the carrier and we drove back up the wooded road towards the first release site.
As I rounded a corner, I saw three pairs of eyes reflecting light from my headlights. It was the three sibling raccoons, and they responded immediately to the truck's presence by dashing off the road and back into cover. They were clearly finished with their carrier as well, so I climbed back down the embankment to retrieve it. As I turned to head back up to the bridge, I suddenly felt that I was being watched. I looked to my right to see one of the raccoons, its eyes fixed on me, sitting completely motionless under a nearby bush. His ears were flat against his head, and he gave me an impressive snort when my eyes met his. I took the hint, and quickly climbed the bank as the raccoon retreated off into darkness. I loaded the carrier into the back of the truck, smiling at the thought that there were now six masked faces that would never again be seen behind those bars. PAWSwalk is Now Less Than 2 Weeks Away! Support Team "Wild Things" Today!
This year's PAWSwalk, PAWS' largest fundraiser of the year, will be Saturday, October 2nd, 2004 at Sand Point Magnuson Park in Seattle.
PAWSwalk benefits all of the animals that PAWS cares for through sponsorships, registrations and pledges. Team "Wild Things" has taken in nearly $3,000 in pledges towards our $5,000 goal. Many thanks to those of you who have already made a pledge or donation. If you have not yet donated, there is still time! If you would like to join PAWS Naturalist Kevin Mack on team "Wild Things", or make a pledge to support the team click here.
Wildlife Release tally: September 1st to September 21st, 2004
Wildlife Release tally: 2004
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