So-called “zombie raccoons” are terrorizing an Ohio town, and while officials think they have a handle on what’s causing the animals’ strange behavior, there’s little to nothing they can do about it, the Sacramento Bee is reporting.
To be clear, this article is not about actual, dead raccoons coming back to life. That’s scientifically impossible. Rather, the raccoons are displaying behavior consistent with the zombies you might watch on The Walking Dead or a George Romero movie: ambling about aimlessly, seemingly driven by no motivation, and showing no fear.
Youngstown resident Robert Coggeshall was outside with his dogs recently when he noticed a raccoon coming his way. He herded his dogs inside and then went to watch the raccoon. Two things struck him: first, the animal was outside and walking around during the day — out of character for the normally nocturnal critters. Second, the raccoon just walked towards him, completely disregarding its normal natural fear of humans.
What happened next shocked the man.
“He would stand up on his hind legs, which I’ve never seen a raccoon do before, and he would show his teeth and then he would fall over backward and go into almost a comatose condition, He’d come out of it, walk around and then he’d do the same thing again. Get on his hind feet and show his teeth.”
— WKBN 27 First News (@WKBN) April 3, 2018
It’s not just Coggeshall. At least 14 reports of similar raccoon behavior have come in to Youngstown Police in recent weeks. Horrified residents all report the same things: the normally nocturnal and famously shy creatures doing the opposite of what raccoons do.
Donna Alexander, the administrator for Cook County Animal & Rabies Control, is familiar with this behavior.
“… walking extremely slowly, and not seeming to care about their surroundings. They are not showing any fear of humans. They are walking around during the daytime. Sometimes they lie down, even though they are completely awake.”
Fortunately, Alexander and other Ohio officials are pretty sure what’s going on. And it’s not a zombie apocalypse that starts with raccoons, nor is it rabies. Rather, it’s another animal disease, one that you may be familiar with if you have dogs.
It’s distemper — canine distemper, specifically. In dogs, the illness shows up through watery eyes, runny nose, fever, and lethargy, according to Pet MD. In extreme cases, it can reach the nervous system, causing fits, seizures, paralysis, and even attacks of hysteria. And there’s no cure, so prevention is the key.
Clearly, vaccinating wild raccoons isn’t an option, and it’s clear that the spread of the virus that causes canine distemper has already made it to the animals’ central nervous systems, affecting their behavior.
Geoff Westerfield, of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, tells WKBN that there’s little that can be done about the raccoon disease except to wait it out.
“Raccoons are really prone to getting diseases that even amongst themselves can be devastating to the population.”
Eventually, the sickness will run its course, and hopefully a few raccoons who aren’t susceptible will survive and re-populate.
Officials warn dog owners in the area to make sure their pets have kept up with their distemper and other vaccinations.