Raccoons are invading England. Sweden too. They’re already responsible for wiping out vineyards in central Germany and are spreading throughout the rest of continental Europe. So what is a new world animal doing taking over Europe?
Turns out, you can blame the Nazis (mostly). Specifically Hermann Göring, Hitler’s top aide. In 1934 Göring, head of the Reich Forestry Office, authorized the release of a small population into the forest outside of Kassel, Germany. Hunters liked their distinctive pelts and Göring thought they would “enrich the local fauna”. From there they spread outwards. Actually, raccoons were released twice more, once during the allied bombing of Berlin (they hit a breeding farm) and once in 1960’s France when NATO troops freed a couple of mascots. Russia also attempted breeding fur farms in the Caucas Mountains, with similar resulting escapees.
At first people thought they were cute, but pretty soon Europeans learned what every major city in North America knows. Raccoons can be very destructive and adapt well to living in cities. They take up residence in people homes and can spread both rabies and canine distemper. And without wolves or other predators, their numbers expand exponentially. They’ve integrated into the local ecosystem, although at the expense of prey species.
Japan has also been invaded by raccoons, although they weren’t released for hunting. Instead the Japanese epidemic results from irresponsible pet owners releasing adults into the wild.