Catalina Island News

Stowaway raccoon makes its way to Catalina Island's interior

Catalina Island Conservancy

While Catalina welcomes more than a million visitors a year, the Island currently has a most unwelcome guest in the form of a stowaway raccoon from San Pedro, who jumped ship in Avalon Harbor on or about Sunday July 1st near the Casino.

The raccoon was spotted, first on July 4th at the Hogsback Gate leading into the Interior, then again at the Roy Rose Nature Garden near the Summit. On Saturday July 7, the elusive animal was spotted just past the Haypress picnic area. Early Monday morning, July 8th, there was an unconfirmed sighting in Middle Ranch of a small lumbering creature that did not look like a cat or a fox. On Monday evening, July 9th, there was a sighting at Fox Landing.

"The raccoon seems to be following the roads and heading deeper into the Interior," said Darcee Guttilla, Conservancy Wildlife Biologist, who has been tracking the animal since its discovery. "So far, there's been no backtracking motion on its part."

The presence of the raccoon on the Island worries Conservancy biologists because raccoons are carriers of a number of various infectious bacteria, viruses and parasites harmful to humans and wild and domesticated animals. Canine distemper virus infection is probably the most common viral disease in raccoons, along with rabies and parvo. Canine distemper virus caused the precipitous decline in the Catalina Island fox, causing it to be listed as in endangered species in 2004. The fox is only now experiencing recovery due to extensive efforts by the Conservancy and its conservation partners.

According to a scientific study, raccoon droppings have a good chance of containing infective eggs containing fully formed roundworm larva (Baylisascaris), which can remain alive in the soil for years and, if ingested, hatch inside a person's body through the brain or the eyes. A single larva can cause blindness.

Julie King, the Conservancy's Senior Wildlife Biologist offered this advice to Islanders:

"If you see the raccoon, please don't try to touch it," she warned. "Raccoons are cute, but if cornered, can be extremely dangerous."

Dr. Winston Vickers, a veterinarian for the Institute for Wildlife Services said that the endangered Catalina Island fox are especially susceptible to strains of the diseases carried by mainland raccoons because of never having been exposed to these strains before. "Additionally," he said, "raccoons would represent direct and substantial competition for resources with the foxes, and potentially a source of physical harm or fatal injury."

The drama began on Sunday, July 1 aboard the Helen Marie bound for Avalon out of San Pedro. Mid-channel, the boaters discovered a stowaway raccoon aboard that immediately dove back down into the bowels of the boat. After tying up at mooring #226 in Avalon Harbor, a still, unidentified couple, disembarked on a dingy seeking help. They found uniformed Firefighter Specialist Kevin Crosby of the Los Angeles Fire Department having lunch at Antonio's. Crosby notified the Harbor Patrol and Avalon Animal Control Officer Tammy Scott who offered a raccoon-sized cage. Captain Curt Cameron of the Harbor Patrol, accompanied by Crosby in the fireboat out to the mooring.

Although they set the trap with dog food as a lure, the raccoon, unseen by humans, was able to lift the trap, shake out the food, eat the food, dive overboard and swim for shore.

The Conservancy is asking Islanders, both in town, and in the Interior, to be on the lookout for the raccoon. If you see it, please call the Conservancy's Conservation Office at 510-1299, Julie King at (310) 510-3102 or Darcee Guttilla at (310) 510-2802.  

"Please call immediately," King said. "We can reduce the risk of parasites and diseases being transferred to our pets and native wildlife if we are able to respond quickly and capture the animal."

In addition, the Conservancy is asking all boaters who find stowaway animals on their boats to turn around and return to the mainland. Island habitats and wildlife are extremely sensitive to introduced species and diseases, and their fragile ecosystems can be seriously disrupted without careful attention. Please check boats before leaving the harbor and contact Animal Control on the mainland if there are stowaways. The California Department of Fish and Game is reporting a dramatic increase in the number of raccoons in the San Pedro area due to the food being put out for feral cat colonies.