Rescued raccoons find new home in Plett

Yolande Stander

MORE than 20 raccoons had to travel nearly 10000km to Plettenberg Bay to have a taste of freedom after living in appalling conditions as illegal pets in tiny cages in Belgium for most of their lives.

And only a month after their epic journey and arrival at the Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary, they are settling in well and are thriving in their massive new enclosure, created to cater for their unique needs.

The 24 raccoons relocated to the sanctuary, which is also home to a number of rescued big cats and other wildlife, were among 30 animals found in Belgium and Cyprus last year being kept illegally as pets.

Biologist Frederik Thoelen of wildlife rescue centre Natuurhulpcentrum, in Opglabbeek, Belgium, said 26 of the raccoons – a species native to North America – were confiscated in Belgium in May last year. "The owner had 26 raccoons and seven coatamundis (raccoon- like Central and South American animals) in her backyard in some very dirty cages. The animals were living in their own faeces – it was terrible to see. Because it is illegal in Belgium to keep raccoons as pets and because they were living in such bad conditions, the animals were immediately confiscated," Thoelen said.

Four raccoons were also confiscated from a pet shop in Cyprus. Finding permanent homes for these critters has become very difficult, not only because there are so many of them being kept as pets in Europe, but also because they are nocturnal animals and therefore not ideal for sanctuaries that rely on tourism or visitors for survival.

After they had spent a month in quarantine, Thoelen and his staff started looking for a new home for the animals. "Some of the animals were transported to zoos in Europe, but the majority went to Jukani. We are very happy they could accept so many animals, since it is very difficult to find good final solutions for this species."

The Jukani team have since gone to great trouble to create the perfect home for them where they can spend the remainder of their lives.

"When they arrived here in December they were terrified. So the team and I spent the first three days and nights with them in their enclosure, observing their behaviour and making sure they adapted. And they did so very quickly," Jukani's Jurgen Olsen said.

The animals eat cat food, sponsored in part by Royal Canin.