Have you looked out the window of your Philly townhouse recently and noticed a raccoon scurrying around on your back deck? You’re not alone.
Raccoons aren’t exactly uncommon in Southeast Pennsylvania. But judging by social media posts, it certainly seems as if the “Philadelphia Trash Panda” is being spotted by an increasing number of people these days.
ACCT Philly (Animal Care & Control Team) says it has experienced a jump in the number of calls about raccoons since the city’s shelter-in-place rules went into effect in mid-March, based on anecdotal feedback from its dispatchers. Unlike their counterparts in the wild, the raccoons that live in the Philadelphia region aren’t necessarily nocturnal, so seeing them scamper around during the day isn’t unusual.
“They do not always wait until dark to come outside to look for food. They are perfectly comfortable coming out when people are walking around,” said Sarah Barnett, the director of development and communications for ACCT Philly. “With more people at home and going for walks as exercise, it’s natural that more people would report seeing raccoons during the daytime.”
Most raccoons target trash cans, and Barnett said many have learned to open lids to get the food thrown inside. Some are even smart enough to remove bungee cords wrapped around trash can lids.
So what do you do if you spot a raccoon rummaging around your garbage? Handle it the way you would most wildlife: Leave it alone. Barnett said springtime is baby season for raccoons, and mothers can get protective of their young, so it’s best to keep your distance.
If a raccoon enters your house, your best bet is to call a humane wildlife removal company (a list of companies is available on ACCT Philly’s website) because ACCT Philly is prevented from entering homes due to the city’s coronavirus restrictions. If you notice a raccoon who appears to be sick (runny eyes, runny nose, salivating) or is stumbling or walking in circles, Barnett said to contact ACCT Philly immediately at 267-385-3800.
‘Aggressive’ rats spreading out in the search for food
Raccoons aren’t the only four-legged creatures poking their noses around as the coronavirus pandemic drags on. With most restaurants remaining closed, rats have begun to migrate out of the downtown area and into more residential neighborhoods in a bid to survive.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned recently that rats may become more “aggressive” as they hunt for new food sources, since business closures had the unintended effect of diminishing the amount of garbage on city streets, robbing rodents of their next meal.
Philadelphia Department of Public Health spokesperson James Garrow said the city’s Vector Control Program hasn’t seen anything like what the CDC has been warning about, likely due to a mild winter that allowed vermin to maintain a steady food source throughout the season. In fact, the number of complaints about rats is down compared with previous springs, according to data provided by the city.
Charles Evans, the owner of Evans Pest Control who has dealt with the rodents in Philadelphia for more than a decade, said he hasn’t been catching any rats recently in the restaurants and businesses he services. Instead, calls about rats from residential areas have been “spiking."
“Downtown was a smorgasbord, with all those little back streets and old dumpsters. You could just smell the rats,” Evans said. “The garbage is gone now, so they’re going to adapt. They’re going to move on.”
Evans said the best way to combat rats is to put your trash in metal containers and seal off any holes that could provide entry into your home. But Evans himself was forced to deal with an infestation at his Philadelphia office, where two rats dug a hole in the side of the building, worked their way to his crawlspace, and ended up munching on food in the employee break room.
“I’ve been in this building seven years, and this is the first time since I bought the place I’ve had rats,” Evans said. “They’re definitely getting more and more aggressive.”