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Nazi Raccoons

Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 20th, 2008

In 1934, Hermann Goering, then head of the Reich Forestry Office, gave permission for the release of a pair of common American raccoons (Procyon lotor) into the German wilderness to enrich the fauna. It has resulted in today’s furry blitzkrieg.

Due to the recent discussions here of raccoons in the Yucatan and escaped pet raccoons taking over Japan, I share revelant historical and contemporary highlights from a Deutsche Welle article about “Nazi” raccoons.

The link to the complete news item is at the end of this detailed overview of this alien invasion.

nazi raccoon

They’re actually American but feel right at home in Kassel, Germany, which has become the European raccoon capital since the animals were introduced here under the Third Reich.

The story begins in 1934, when a breeder asked the Reich Forestry Office, then led by future top Hitler aide Hermann Göring, for permission to release the masked-faced mammals to “enrich the local fauna” outside Kassel, a small city north of Frankfurt.

“Raccoon pelts were a popular trophy for hunters back then,” biologist Ulf Hohmann said. “They were also raised for their fur at special farms” after they were imported from North America early last century.

Seventy years on, the furry critters are now as populous in some areas of Germany as in the major urban centers of North America — a whopping one per hectare (2.5 acres), Hohmann said.

A raccoon’s urban paradise

Somewhere between 100,000 and one million raccoons are estimated to live in Germany, making them prime targets for hunters. Some 20,000 were shot during the last season, according to official statistics. But unfortunately for the denizens of a growing number of European capitals, they like cities.

Furry blitzkrieg?

Hundreds of thousands have fanned out to Belgium, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and France. The news caught the ire of Britain’s Sun tabloid, which warned its readers that “Nazi raccoons” were “just across the Channel” and “on the warpath … in a furry blitzkrieg”.

[...snip...]

Since their introduction during the Third Reich, raccoons can trace their gradual conquest of Europe back to two other moments in history.

As Allied bombs rained over Berlin at the end of World War II, one struck a fur breeding farm, giving the raccoons there the opportunity to escape into the wild. They never looked back. And in the 1960s, NATO soldiers freed the raccoons they used as mascots after leaving their base in France, setting off a baby boom.

Hohmann says that in the coming years, raccoons are expected to spread to even more European cities.

“Kassel is just the beginning,” he said.

Source: “Nazi Raccoons on the March in Europe,” Deutsche Welle, September 11, 2004.

Also see an update: “From Nazi Past, a Proliferating Pest,” Washington Post, May 25, 2007.

Loren Coleman – has written 5491 posts on this site.
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


14 Responses to “Nazi Raccoons”

  1. Porkchop responds:

    Considering the damage of European Starlings and other invasives, my schadenfreude nature isn’t very empathetic.

  2. Loren Coleman responds:

    FYI: Schadenfreude is a unique German word with no good translation into any exact word found in English, but it means, generally, “pleasure taken from someone else’s misfortune.”

  3. Sunny responds:

    and the fact that it was printed in the Sun?

    Well, let’s just say that they are experts at portraying the news in any of a dizzying array of varying hues of yellow.

    Page 3. ’nuff said.

  4. Loren Coleman responds:

    Ah, no sense of humor if the Sun has published something using a graphic phrase to bring home the spread of raccoons throughout Europe? (The Sun story is not the main reference to this information, needless to say.)

    Sensationalistic characterizations of the news do not make them less true in some cases.

  5. Alligator responds:

    Procyon lotor uber alles!!!

  6. Doug responds:

    In almost every case where a species has been exported to a different place, the environmental effects usually end in a disaster. Looks the same here.

  7. mystery_man responds:

    Anytime a new, non-indigenous species is introduced into a new habitat, you really do have a potential Pandora’s box on your hands. Direct predation, competition with indigenous species, disease, over foraging, in some cases interbreeding with similar species which can cause a loss of genetic integrity of the original species, there is a large variety of possible disastrous effects.

    The ecology of a given area is very complex and can be very finely tuned and balanced. If one thing gets changed or thrown out of whack, there can be a sort of domino chain of effects throughout the habitat. Some of these effects can be totally unpredictable or complicated to the point where nobody saw them coming, others were sadly quite obvious from the beginning. Compounding the problem is that when you get an introduced species, it can be very hard to tell at first just what kind of impact it is going to have on this complex system and it sometimes takes years to evaluate just what, if any, detrimental effects the species will have. Unfortunately, often by the time a problem is detected, it is too late to effectively take any quick action against it. The bottom line is an invasive species can potentially cause havoc on native plant and wildlife, especially since the native animals and plants often have no defense against or way to adequately deal with the invaders. When you throw a wrench (an introduced species) into a very complex machine (the ecosystem), you are likely to have problems, or at least unforeseen and often undesirable situations.

    The way these raccoons have flourished in Japan, Germany, and elsewhere suggests to me that a very watchful eye needs to be kept on them and the influence they are having on the native environment. These animals seem cute and cuddly, which can make public opinion on management plans such as extermination a problem, but it must be remembered that these non-indigenous creatures have no place in the natural ecology of these areas. Simply put, they do not belong there and this can cause subtle or blatant consequences that some people are just not aware of. Sure, the presence of these invasive species can have minimal effects, but they can also have a far reaching impact that can upset the whole ecosystem and cause extinctions of native plants or animals. In my opinion, the best course of action is that the situation needs to be evaluated regularly and if problems arise, a comprehensive management plan needs to be planned out.

  8. Richard888 responds:

    I thought the animals imported into Germany were Raccoon DOGS as in from East Asia. I remember reading how they have established themselves as native fauna in a number of European countries. Wikipedia too mentions this. So Europe has Procyon Lotor too? I guess it’s not as offensive to my common sense as Alberta Moose in New Zealand but still…

  9. noobfun responds:

    Loren i think Sunny’s comments are aimed more at the sun then it snappy header for the story

    its well known for story titles like that

    its that after the title the sun never lets facts get in the way of a good story

    like the attack of the man eating greatwhite sharks *cough*basking sharks*cough* that invaded cornwall because of global warming,

    if this story had come only sourced from the sun, id think its probabily 2 escaped racoons and letting the story take over the facts again like sunny

  10. sschaper responds:

    While extremely intelligent, I seriously doubt that raccoons have political affiliation ;-) Have the Social Democrats adopted them as a mascot?

    Two animals shouldn’t be able to produce a healthy breeding population.

    The ‘red panda’ or ‘raccoon dog’, the Eurasian relative, would have made a better choice.

    On a humorous vein, I did recently see a picture of a red panda as representative of upper Midwestern wildlife. I suppose it was confused with our raccoon.

  11. Sunny responds:

    Noobfun, thank you — you hit on the head exactly what I was aiming for, but didn’t phrase quite as clearly.

    It’s not the veracity of the story I was questioning at all — I’ve heard this story from other sources, as well, so wasn’t questioning you or the raccoons, Loren.

    It’s just that if it is in the Sun, the truth is there, somewhere, but will likely be buried under much hype, hysteria, and sheer speculation.

  12. noobfun responds:

    i knew the south of england had plenty of forna it shouldnt have like chinese mitten crabs and about 18 species of parrot

    but had no idea germany and surrounding countries had a bunch of racoons

    wonder if thy will make it through the channel like all those rabies ridden foxes the sun told us would be comming

  13. Alligator responds:

    sschaper said

    Actually in the 1830s and 1840s the raccoon was the symbol of the Whig Party – the political forerunner of the Republican Party.

    Kudzu,
    Water Hyacinth
    Grass Carp,
    Fire Ants
    African Bees
    Cottontail Rabbits
    English Sparrows
    Brown Snakes
    White tail Deer
    Walking Catfish
    Zebra Mussels
    Gray Squirrels

    All stuff that has escaped or been released where it did not naturally occur. Everyone of them causing expensive, major ecological and sometimes health problems in those areas.

  14. mystery_man responds:

    Alligator- The sad things is, I could keep adding and adding to that list with fish, animals, and plants that ended up where they didn’t belong and had less than favorable interactions with the local ecology.

    The reasons these introduced, alien species get where they are are varied. Some were introduced to the wild accidentally, as is the case with pet raccoons escaping in Japan and some of them were introduced on purpose with the intention of having a beneficial effect or somehow enriching the environment, as seems to be the case with raccoons in Germany or the mongoose in Japan (which likes to eat pretty much everything except the poisonous Habu snake it was meant to eradicate.). Some were pets that owners could no longer care for and released in a misguided attempt to “return them to nature”. Others were introduced for sport, such as the largemouth bass in Japan (truly a terror of lake and river ecology if ever there was one), and still others as a food source. The bluegill, for example, was introduced in Japan by the Royal Family itself as a readily available, plentiful eating fish, and instead has become a major nuisance that almost nobody eats.

    No matter what the cause, the problem is that it is really quite hard to determine the long term results of such introductions, or how the animal will influence its new home, even if they were put there with the best intentions in mind and with careful consideration. The exact consequences of these invasive species can surprise and baffle even those who carefully planned the introduction, some of them having effects that were not foreseen at all. On top of that, management of these species can be a nightmare, with many expensive plans failing before any effective measure is found.

    In my opinion, animals should not be introduced into new environments or habitats unless they are to fill a niche for which no other animal exists to adequately fill, be it due to extinction or geographic isolation. These “re-introductions” (even though not always the same species as the original) can be a highly positive influence on the ecosystem. I’d be all for the release of the grey wolf into Japan, for example, if I didn’t really think any native Honshu or Hokkaido wolves remained (which I do), as they would fill a sorely needed keystone predator niche here. Even then, the plan would have to be carefully considered from all angles, including the biological one and the public opinion one. I think as a general rule, though, invasive species are a nuisance or unneeded addition at best, and highly destructive at worst. Raccoons are definitely not a species that is sorely needed in the areas where they have started to run amok.



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