Check out photos of these black-and-white bandits who are on the rise in Calgary

Alberta has had raccoons for decades, but a naturalist says Calgarians could see more of them in populated parts of the city as trees grow and rivers provide food sources.

Bow River crayfish invasion and maturing fruit trees provide food sources

These raccoons were spotted scurrying along a fence in Douglasdale in southeast Calgary in August. (Ed Schreuder)

Rabbits, beavers and even bobcats are common sights in Calgary, but what about raccoons in the city?

Chris Fisher, a naturalist in Calgary, says the black-and-white bandits have been here for decades.

"It's been in the last 20 years or so that they've really become established, kind of in the southeast areas, mostly," Fisher said on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"Fish Creek Park is the hot zone for raccoons right now, but they're found now pretty much throughout the city."

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

Raccoons are widespread throughout most of North America, excluding Alaska and northern Canada, and can be expected to live in Alberta. But it's possible they originally came into the city as personal pets, said Fisher.

"They naturally occur in Alberta in low numbers, in the major river valleys in the southern area. They like to be associated with many environments, open water, big cottonwood trees," said Fisher.

"In the last 20 years or so, they've come into Calgary and found it, quite frankly, quite good to their liking."

He thinks Calgary will never see as many urban raccoons as there are in Toronto, where they have earned the fond nickname "trash pandas."

The scarcity of raccoons in Alberta is due to two main factors: the province's trees and climate.

"We're a little colder than Toronto is. And we don't have those big deciduous trees, even in our neighbourhoods," he said.

"We might have some big pockets where we do have the big deciduous trees, the cottonwood trees down along the Bow in the eastern areas of Fish Creek. That's where the raccoons are."

Raccoons like the old, mature deciduous tree that get hollowed out as those hollows provide an excellent place to hide during the day. Calgarians could start to see more raccoons in the city, thanks to maturing fruit trees and food sources in the river.

"You know, there's lots to eat in Calgary and there's increasingly more to eat with the invasion of crayfish in the river," said Fisher.

"These raccoons are so tightly tied to open and flowing waters and muddy banks that the fact that we have crayfish now, which we didn't have 30 years ago, that's a really handy snack for them to keep them going."

Fisher says that outside of a few opportunistic coyotes and bobcats, there aren't many predators for raccoons in Calgary. He says the most common cause of death for raccoons is being hit by a car.

If you're desperate to spot a raccoon, Fisher has some tips.

"I would scour the east end of Fish Creek Park, particularly the areas around the creek with muddy banks, to look for their telltale little handprints," said Fisher.

"[They] look exactly like ours, big, long fingers," he said.

"Go out as the dusk is approaching and look up into the trees and the odds would be pretty good that you'd see one."

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


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