Raccoons adapting to Calgary, experts say

According to experts, the raccoon population has increased over the past few years in certain parts of southern Alberta, including Calgary.

Mischievous 'trash pandas' are becoming more common in the region

A picture of a raccoon in Fish Creek, Calgary.
This raccoon was caught on camera in Fish Creek Provincial Park in April 2018. Experts believe that the raccoon population is growing in Calgary. (Calgary Parks)

Raccoons are smarter than you might think — they can use their dexterous abilities to open windows and sneak into attics in their hunt for a snack. 

According to experts, the raccoon population has increased over the past few years in certain parts of southern Alberta, including Calgary.

"We're starting to see them showing up in different parts of the city, and we've known for probably a decade that they're around but just in low numbers," said Shelley Alexander, an urban wildlife expert, in a conversation on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"These species are really good at exploiting the urban environment," said the University of Calgary professor, adding that raccoons are "extremely smart" in general and may even figure out "how to punch the code" on garage doors.

Chris Fisher, who is a wildlife biologist and an author, echoed this sentiment: "Raccoons will be attracted to food and they will stop at nothing in order to satisfy their hunger." 

The wildlife expert added he can't help but notice that the species, which is prevalent in many parts of North America, is particularly skilled at adapting to a new environment.

"As other places have learned, they are simply one of the best species of wildlife in North America at unlocking the secrets of finding food," he said. "Whether it's something that we deliberately do to keep [food] locked away or not, they seem to have a marvellous ability to unlock these secrets."

No need to panic, though. According to Fisher, the raccoon population isn't alarmingly large in Alberta right now.

"I think we're still decades away from getting anywhere close to the number and the pervasiveness of raccoons in a place like southern Ontario," he said.

Raccoons present unique challenges

While raccoons may not be widespread in Alberta, they still present a unique set of challenges to residents. For instance, they may transmit deadly illnesses like rabies to other animals, including pets.

Additionally, if left unchecked, raccoons can reproduce in large numbers and cause problems, according to Alexander. 

Raccoons may get into fights with other animals and are known to have "nasty encounters" with dogs. 

LISTEN I Shelley Alexander talks about the growing raccoon population:

Why the raccoon population is growing as quickly as our suburbs.

But what's leading to the rise in raccoons? Urbanization is a big culprit, according to Alexander.

"It's a pretty big topic in ecology right now, the creation of novel ecosystems," she said.

"We don't really think about when we're building a city and building all these green spaces that we are using up all the habitat that's out there — and some of these species are going to move in — and that they'll be what we call these novel ecosystems."

She added this isn't necessarily a bad thing because many folks have learned to adapt.

"Most people that live in Calgary actually love to see the wildlife and know how to negotiate those relationships," Alexander said. "But as those change, we're going to have to take those relationships, those rules forward, and there will be different [rules] with different species."

'They're not particularly violent'

While raccoons aren't particularly dangerous or worrisome, it's important to not challenge or confront them if you see them. 

"They're not particularly violent. Every raccoon I've seen is very peaceful and will slowly wander away," Fisher said. "But just like any species of wildlife, if cornered, if confronted, if injured, if attacked, they're more than capable of defending themselves."

The key to avoiding unnecessary confrontations is achieving a state of peaceful coexistence, according to Melanie Whalen, director of animal care and wildlife services for the Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society.

"As long as we're giving them space, we leave them alone … they will just kind of go on their way," she said. "They'll find natural food sources that they need [to survive]."

Whalen added it's important to avoid feeding raccoons or giving them a space to live in. 

Why? They may end up getting conditioned to expect food and may stray away from their "natural habitat."

It's also a bad idea to capture and release these animals elsewhere, according to Whalen.

A raccoon perched on a wall.
This spooked raccoon was spotted in 2020. Eventually, a Calgary Transit employee came and provided a way down for the animal, by way of a plank. (Emily Howe)

"Trapping and relocating is not considered humane," she said. "A lot of people use that as an option because they think, 'I'm trapping this animal and not killing it, I'm moving it away somewhere else and it's going to live happily ever after.' But studies show that that's not the case."

The better option is to work toward coexistence and give the animals some space to do their own thing. 

If you're worried about an opportunistic raccoon entering your home, Whalen has a few tips. 

She suggests using closed garbage containers with secure lids, repairing holes in roofs and covering chimneys.

 It's also wise to not leave pet food outside because it can attract hungry raccoons. 

"They will end up feeding on some of that pet food that's put outside, and then that just distracts them. And now you've conditioned them, you know, essentially to come to your place to feed," Whalen explained.

'They're very cute. They're panda-esque'

So where in the city are you most likely to run into a raccoon?

Areas close to the Bow and Elbow rivers and Fish Creek Provincial Park are hot spots, according to Fisher.

The wildlife biologist thinks the "trash panda" nickname is rather apt for raccoons because they're endearing but troublesome at the same time.

"They're very cute. They're panda-esque," Fisher said. "We see cartoon creatures and … children's cartoons, characters devoted and emulated off of raccoons. But you also have the trash components as well, which is … the dirty side and the mischievous side of them."


Boshika Gupta

CBC Calgary digital journalist

Boshika Gupta is a journalist with extensive experience covering several beats such as public policy, food, culture, mental health, wellness and education. Contact her on

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener