Ravenous racoons ruin German wine harvest
19 October 2005, HAMBURG - Authorities in Germany have stepped up efforts to cull racoons amid reports that the ravenous American mammals have ruined wine-grape harvests in one region.
19 October 2005
HAMBURG - Authorities in Germany have stepped up efforts to cull racoons amid reports that the ravenous American mammals have ruined wine-grape harvests in one region.
Imported to Germany from North America before World War II, racoons have multiplied unchecked throughout Germany and all of Central Europe, from the Low Countries to the Urals, according to conservationists.
The nocturnal mammals have become a health hazard in many cities, where they rummage through garbage bins and invade homeowners' attics and cellars. Now, they are becoming a threat to agriculture.
"Racoons wiped out almost the entire harvest in a matter of days," vintner Werner Kothe told Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
"We have 540 vines and they have been stripped bare by these pesky animals," said Kothe, who operates a vineyard in the Brandenburg region of north-eastern Germany.
The situation has become so serious in Brandenburg that officials there have authorised hunters to cull racoons.
Last year, hunters in the state killed 3,471 of the pests. However scientists estimate there may be upwards of a million of the rascally mammals in Germany alone - and they are spreading to neighbouring countries at an alarming rate.
Experts say there are 100 racoons per square kilometre in the Kassel area, in the wooded hill country north of Frankfurt - 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 and spiked defences on downspouts and gutters. Even attic windows are barred.
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 racoons. He drives a special vehicle marked "Der Waschbaermann" ("The Racoon Man").
Racoons are most concentrated in the Kassel area and in the Brandenburg area east of Berlin, where a dozen or more of the creatures escaped from a fur farm in the chaos of the waning days of World War II in 1945.
"Culling is almost impossible due to the fact that the racoon is a very cunning nocturnal creature," says Dr Ulf Hohmann, a zoologist who has studied the racoon. "They are difficult to find even when equipped with a radio tag. Without that, they are impossible to track down."
"And besides," Hohmann adds, "waiting until a racoon causes mischief and then calling in a hunter ... is only treating the symptom rather than the cause."
"The fact of the matter is that the racoon has established itself as a native species in Europe," he adds, "and very successfully so."
Subject: German news