City's raccoon dog residents in the spotlight

Hu Min
Research reveals that up to 3,000 of the wild animals are estimated to be living in Shanghai and drawn to residential complexes because of food left out for stray cats. 
Hu Min

As many as 3,000 raccoon dogs are thought to be living in Shanghai and GPS and infrared cameras are being used to observe their movements and behavior with the aim of protecting the animal and creating a harmonious coexistence with people,  a researcher at Fudan University's School of Life Sciences said on Friday.

In July, there were reports of someone being bitten by a raccoon dog, a relative of the fox, at the Milan Nuoguidu residential community in Songjiang District.

The neighborhood committee attributed the rising number of the animals to the extensive greenery in the community and increasing food left out for stray cats.

"We have put GPS collars on three raccoon dogs to closely monitor their daily life, behavior and habits," said researcher Wang Fang at the opening ceremony of Shanghai's Wildlife Preservation Promotion Month on Friday.

Wild animals surprise and delight city dwellers, but also pose concerns and challenges, said Wang.

Wang and his team visited nearly 200 residential complexes and green spaces in the city this year and found traces of the animal at 147 residential complexes.

Wang filmed more than 10 young wild raccoon dogs at the Milan Nuoguidu residential community in July, scrambling for cat food left on the ground.

He estimates there were 50 to 80 raccoon dogs living in the community because of residents putting out food. 

"After residents stop feeding, the incidence of spotting the animal dropped significantly and about 10 have been released to the wild," Wang said.

Wang's team and Shanghai's forestry authorities plan to put GPS collars on another 10 raccoon dogs next year and more than 300 infrared cameras have been installed across the city at university campuses, parks and residential complexes to monitor their activity.

"We hope to collect a large amount of basic data and make an analysis, thus forming a management solution for wild animals in the city within one to two years," said Wang.

The data collection will also cover weasels, hedgehogs and birds, he said. 

The number of raccoons, indigenous to Shanghai, reached a peak in 2016, but dropped over the next two years due to skin diseases probably because of parasites from stray cats and dogs, Wang said. 

But in 2019 and this year, the figure surged again.

"Raccoons living in the city also face a lot of dangers such as pesticides and traffic accidents, and they may be scared during breeding season," said Wang.

The animal is highly adaptable and keeps searching for safer places to live, he added. 

Shanghai Forestry Station said it has been cooperating with Wang's team to collect data and will draft relevant shelter and rescue solutions.

"A lot of basic work is involved on how to protect wild-animal residents in the city," said Li Zirong, deputy director of the station.

Shanghai's greenery authorities kicked off a monthlong promotion campaign on Friday, involving bird watching, nature exploration, photo exhibitions, lectures and games to raise people's awareness to protect wildlife. 

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