Toronto

Rare albino raccoon may be hanging out in Richmond Hill

A Richmond Hill woman spotted and photographed an unusual animal in her backyard. Experts say it is likely a rare albino raccoon.

'Very unusual' animal in Richmond Hill backyard likely an albino raccoon, experts say

Paula Gianasi spotted this animal in her Richmond Hill backyard at the end of July. (Submitted by Paula Gianasi)

At first, Paula Gianasi thought it was giant white rat.

She spotted the all-white creature in her Richmond Hill backyard just over a week ago. But after examining her photos, she wavered in that assessment.

"Its fur was too scruffy," she says.

There was also something about the way the animal was acting.

Gianasi's dog spotted it too and barked loudly. The animal didn't seem to notice or mind. "It was just going for a stroll. It was walking very slowly," she told CBC News. "I thought maybe it was someone's exotic pet."

After a Google search, Gianasi figured the animal was a possum. But what about its bushy tail?

Experts agree the creature is likely an albino raccoon. (Submitted by Paula Gianasi)

She was confused.

"I have never seen anything like this in the 37 years I've been here. Very unusual."

Rare albino raccoon

After viewing Gianasi's photos, Professor Suzanne MacDonald, an animal behaviour specialist at York University, says it's "definitely" an albino raccoon.

And yes, they are unusual.

"The best estimate I've read is that the probability of an albino birth is 1 in 10,000," Macdonald says.

Those are the odds of an albino raccoon being born. The chances of actually spotting one are much slimmer, Macdonald points out, because they typically don't survive in the wild.

The probability of an albino raccoon being born is 1 in 10,000, says one local expert. (Submitted by Paula Gianasi)

Brad Gates is the founder of AAA Gates' Wildlife Control. He says his company removes roughly 5,000 litters of raccoons from GTA homes every year. In 32 years in business, he's only seen five albino raccoons.

In each case, Gates says the raccoons were young and still supported by their mothers. After that, experts say albinos have trouble thriving.

Albino struggles

The executive director of the Toronto Wildlife Centre, Nathalie Karvonen, also believes the animal in the photos is an albino raccoon. The centre has helped them before.

"Usually they have problems with their vision, hearing or other body systems," she says.

Karvonen says the centre has also assisted other albino animals, including squirrels, bats and even an albino crow.

"It's out there," she says of albinism. "You just don't see animals surviving with it very long."

Albino animals have a difficult time surviving in the wild. (Submitted by Paula Gianasi)

Now that she knows the animal is likely an albino raccoon, and may be in danger, Paula Gianasi is worried.

She's been watching for it, but it hasn't been seen she took the photos.

"I feel lucky that I saw this beautiful creation," she said.

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