The number of raccoons in Berlin has exploded in past years, according to Derk Ehlert, Berlin's wildlife representative, with most sightings in Kopenick, Spandau, and Reinekendorf. Ehlert reckons anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000 now live in the city, but with no hunters and plenty of food about, their population could grow much bigger.
Haven’t seen one? Neither have I, but apparently the key to spotting these midnight trash pandas is to look up. As one Prenzlauer Berg resident, Melanie S, tells us: “I once saw one sleeping in a tree outside my window on the 4th floor.”
Ehlert’s day to day is filled with helping people know what to do when they come into contact with one of the bears. His main advice: “Don't feed them. Let them live. Take the photo. Enjoy the moment, but please don't take them home. They’re wild.”
Originally from North America, there are two breeds of raccoon in Germany – a white-furred species released into the forests of West Germany in the 1930s by a ranger who claimed he wanted to “enrich the fauna” but, according to Ehlert, just wanted “more things to shoot and eat”, and a black-furred species around Berlin that was released from a fur farm in 1945.
While not a threat to you and me, they’ll happily raid gardens, take over attics, and are a menace to local wildlife. Susanne, a local resident, has already seen a decline in the number of moorhens near Plötzensee after raccoons started eating their eggs. “There’s really a very small percentage of little birds that get through,” she says. “The raccoons are so strong and they don't give a damn. So everything, all the eggs, are just splattered.”
But if you dispose of a raccoon, another will likely take its place. So, unlike other bundeslandes, Berlin only shoots them if they are sick, or posing a threat. This means only a disease, or a cold winter, would see numbers dwindle.
And so it seems we’re going to need to learn to live with them, whether that’s through building “raccoon-proofed” nests and homes, or setting aside more protected areas for their prey to hide in.
Afterall, as Ehlert says: “If we had more land for the breeding birds in the long grass, the raccoons wouldn’t be able to catch them. So, we really have to ask ourselves: Is the raccoon really the problem, or on the other hand, isn’t it true that it’s a problem of more, bigger cities, of a change of climate, of dryness, and of not much water?”
In other words, if the problem isn’t the Waschbären, is it us? 👀