Three orphaned raccoons found their way into the care of the local nonprofit Teton Wildlife Rehabilitation Center this June and now they’re almost ready to be released into the wild.
One of the orphans was dumped unceremoniously at the Idaho Fish & Game office in Idaho Falls on a Friday afternoon just as employees were leaving for the weekend. TWRC executive director Lindsay Jones hustled down to Idaho Falls to pick up the little mammal. A week later, while coming home from a conference, TWRC co-founder Renee Seidler took custody of two more orphans in Buhl. As highly social animals, the threesome happily settled into a family unit.
TWRC was established in 2015 and now has the land and permits necessary to intake some animals, including a litter of yellow-bellied marmots earlier this summer. The major goal behind TWRC’s fundraising push this year is a containment building on the property, but the cost will be significant; the land is flood prone so the building site needs to be raised before the foundation is poured. But Jones is happy to now be working for the nonprofit full time. She and Seidler are in the process of getting their migratory bird permit and have installed netting over their waterfowl and beaver pond to make an aviary.
After bringing in the raccoons, the TWRC team hastily erected an enclosure for them next to the waterfowl pond. Between the enclosure and food, Jones estimates that the raccoons have cost around $3,000.
Jones said that through research and conversations with other rehabbers, she determined that the raccoons, now weaned and almost four months old, are ready to be re-homed so they can acclimate before winter. The question, however, is where? They need to be far from highways and humans, in a place with a year-round water source and deciduous trees. Jones has been driving around searching for good sites, and hopes a private landowner with ample open space will come forward, but is concerned about the bad rap that raccoons get.
“It’s really difficult to figure out where to take them,” she said. “There’s a lot of hate for raccoons. But they are native to this area, and they have to eat too.”
In general, Jones and TWRC volunteers are very careful not to let captive wild animals grow too accustomed to humans. While the raccoons have had a good bit of human contact during their residency at TWRC, Jones said their species is one of the few that can quickly shed that habituation and revert to being fully wild.
“If we release them and then check on them a week later, they’d be like wild raccoons,” she said. “And that’s the goal.”
Education is a big part of TWRC’s mission. Jones has fielded requests for programs and presentations from regional organizations including the Boys & Girls Club of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, and wants to expand TWRC’s educational offerings. Pending board approval, she might even keep an educational animal or two, critters that are too injured or habituated to be released.
“The raptor center [in Wilson, WY] is so successful with their educational birds,” she said. “Right now we don’t bring the public to the facilities, we don’t want to show them wildlife, so it’s harder to get our message out. We have to involve people in some way. Education is huge.”