'Nazi' raccoons overrun Europe
8 March 2004, KASSEL - The story goes that Nazi henchman Hermann Goering imported a pair of raccoons from America in 1934 and ordered them set free in the woods of central Germany to "enrich the Reich's fauna", as he put it at the time. In the 70 years since then, these "Nazi raccoons" have multiplied in such prodigious numbers that there may be upwards of a million of the rascally American mammals in Germany alone - and they are spreading rapidly to neighbouring countries at an alarming rate. So alarming
8 March 2004
KASSEL - The story goes that Nazi henchman Hermann Goering imported a pair of raccoons from America in 1934 and ordered them set free in the woods of central Germany to "enrich the Reich's fauna", as he put it at the time.
In the 70 years since then, these "Nazi raccoons" have multiplied in such prodigious numbers that there may be upwards of a million of the rascally American mammals in Germany alone - and they are spreading rapidly to neighbouring countries at an alarming rate.
So alarming is the spread of these nocturnal creatures, who have no natural enemies in Europe, that officials are considering drastic measures to cull them.
A stroll through Kassel, in the wooded hill country north of Frankfurt, reveals a city under siege. It was near here that that first coon couple was released, and it is here that they are most populous.
Experts say there are 100 racoons per square kilometre in the Kassel area - the same density reported in the racoon's natural habitat in North America.
Residential homes in Kassel resemble fortresses, with mesh wire covering all openings, spiked defences on downspouts and gutters. Even attic windows are barred.
Rubbish bins are secured with bungee cords or padlocks in some cases.
Tales abound of how pies vanish from window sills where they are left to cool - or even food from the stove top. Nearly every family has seen glowing eyes staring in through a window at night.
One couple recently told how a raccoon slipped through the cat-flap in the kitchen door and ate the pet cat's food before retiring to a cozy cushion for a nap.
Folks in Kassel have even learned to put netting over fruit trees to prevent rapacious raccoons from stealing fruit.
Kassel is possibly the only city in the world to have hired an animal control officer whose sole duty is to patrol the streets in search of raccoons and answer residents' appeals for help in ridding their attics and back yard tool sheds of unwanted furry lodgers. He drives a special vehicle marked "Der Waschbaermann" (Raccoon Man).
The city has even paid zoologists from a nearby university to tag and study raccoons in a bid to determine the scope of the problem. The radio-beacon tags permit researchers to follow the animals and learn about their habits and population densities.
"Kassel is definitely the racoon capital of Europe," says Ulf Hohmann, head of the racoon study project. "I'd say 50 per cent of the residents here have had close encounters with raccoons, some of them on a repeated or even regular basis."
"Our job is to educate the public about these marvellous animals as we study their true impact on the European environment," Hohmann says.
The truth is that racoons have over the past 70 years spread throughout Germany. They are most concentrated in the Kassel area and in an area east of Berlin, where a dozen or more raccoons escaped from a fur farm in the chaos of the waning days of World War II in 1945.
In eastern Germany the situation is so bad that local authorities have proposed declaring open season on raccoons and posting bounties for their pelts.
"Raccoons have become a pest and should be eradicated, says Guenter Sachert, head of a hunting club in Strausberg, east of Berlin. "I favour putting a bounty of EUR 25 per pelt. They are, after all, not native to this continent and are competing for food with foxes and other native species. Something has to be done."
Others warn against exaggerating the raccoon menace.
"Foxes are more of a threat to chicken farmers than raccoons are," says Matthias Freude, head of the Brandenburg state agriculture department.
Subject: German news