Europe has no living native Procyonids. Germany and the countries on which it borders do have a well-established population of raccoons, but the British Isles were thought to be raccoon-free. In fact, I refused to watch one version of 101 Dalmatians because it featured raccoons in England. Every English person knows there aren’t any raccoons running around.
However, the same cannot be said of Ireland. Rumors of errant raccoons have been filtering through the internet for quite some time. I got wind of it in 2011, when raccoons were sighted in County Cork.
I didn’t think it was possible that there could be a breeding population in Ireland, but in recent months, a raccoon was hit by car in County Clare back in September.
These might be errant escaped pets, but errant escaped pets are the basis for a potential breeding population. And if you think that sounds far-fetched, well, Germany has a growing population of raccoons that were introduced in the 1930s.
Ireland has a much milder climate than most of North America, and this species of raccoon lives where the winters can be quite harsh.
These sightings could very well be the start of a real problem in Ireland. Raccoons are the ultimate mesopredator in that they relish raiding bird nests and even killing ground-nesting birds and poultry. Their numbers have flourished in North America since the widespread extirpation of wolves and cougars, and in Ireland, they would likely find a paradise. They would have to compete with badgers and red foxes, but because they are such adept climbers, they would also have access to food sources in trees.
We can hope that an established population of raccoons isn’t being founded in Ireland right now, but I almost wouldn’t bet against it. They do very well on the continent. Ireland is ripe fruit, reading for the clawed hands to pick.