We just got ahold of a letter from the Central Park Conservancy to Councilwoman Gale Brewer addressing concerns from Upper West Side residents that raccoons have begun to get a little saucy at local playgrounds, jumping up on picnic tables and snatching kids’ food. As one mother noted: “The raccoons seem to be getting more and more brazen.” We reported on those concerns a couple of months ago, but the conservancy referred us to the parks department and the parks department never responded. The issue was of particular concern because not so long ago the raccoon population in the park was overrun with rabies. So far this year, there haven’t been any confirmed reports of rabid raccoons, according to the city health department.
In the letter, Douglas Blonsky of the Central Park Conservancy addressed some of the parents’ concerns about the raccoons. The letter is a little dated (it was sent on July 31). It reads, in part:
“Dear Council Member Brewer:
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has asked me to reply to your letter on behalf of a constituent regarding raccoons in the Rudin Playground (West 96th St) in Central Park.
Raccoons are indigenous to Central Park and are very common in the Park. We have a population of up to 500 raccoons at any given time. Right now, we have no reports of confirmed rabies.
In general, raccoons will not bother people or dogs unless they are provoked. People generally do not see them because they are usually nocturnal. But there may be times when they might be out in the daytime. The raccoons are drawn to playgrounds because people who do not know better feed them thinking they are cute. People also leave garbage under benches, or bring food to playgrounds and leave what they drop on the ground. Raccoons will go wherever the easiest meal is, even if it means interrupting their normal sleep patterns and going out in the daytime. People should not approach raccoons or attempt to feed them. Although they are indeed indigenous to the Park, they are also creatures that will take advantage of conditions that provide an easy meal.
We are also at the time of year when young raccoons are being extricated from nests by parents, so we are seeing an increasing number of raccoons during the day right now who are looking for homes. Food is probably more important than shelter in these warm months, so they will go the easiest route to a snack. We may also have nursing mothers (hard to say if the warm Winter has resulted in multiple broods this year). Nursing mothers will frequently leave the nest during the day because food needs are much higher.
Being out in the day is not abnormal for raccoons. Abnormal behavior, however – looking disoriented, irregular gait, lethargic – should be reported right away. lf there is no nearby Conservancy or Park worker, the Park visitor should call 911 to report such a sighting and should leave the area immediately.”
Photo by Laura Matthei.