Your “pet” raccoon will be killed. It’s your fault.

Folks, we need to have a talk. This isn’t a pleasant, cute, or cuddly talk, but it’s one that we Tennessean animal lovers need to have.

I get calls all the time from people who find baby raccoons and, instead of calling a qualified rehabilitator, they choose to raise the animal as a pet. By the time I am contacted, the raccoon is almost always too tame to ever be released, and has also bitten people.

These raccoons have to be killed.

If you have been bitten by a wild raccoon, you may have been exposed to rabies. There is no approved test for rabies in a living animal, and no quarantine period known to reliably identify rabies in raccoons. Raccoons with a certain variant of rabies can sometimes have the virus for months, with few or no symptoms.

If your wild “pet” raccoon has bitten you or someone else— something that is inevitable for a stressed wild animal in a human house— I am required by law to refer the raccoon for euthanasia. After it’s euthanized, it’s decapitated and tested for rabies so the bite victim will know if they need post-exposure treatment.

There’s no way to candy-coat this. It’s ugly. It’s unfair. It’s horrific. It’s the exact opposite of what I want to do with my life. I don’t euthanize animals for fun. Every single case haunts me. But I will never risk my permit or your life because you thought it would be fun to raise a raccoon yourself.

This is completely preventable. If you have found a raccoon or any other wild animal that needs help, please contact a permitted rehabilitator immediately. Not after it’s stopped being cute, not after it’s gotten aggressive, not after it’s bitten your child, not after it’s become gravely ill from improper care. Call a rehabilitator immediately.

Don’t sentence an animal to death. And please, don’t put me in the position of needing to be part of it.

Don’t let raccoons see you feed them!

This year, For Fox Sake has received over a dozen calls about raccoons who had gotten too friendly and had become a nuisance. Because For Fox Sake is not authorized to remove or relocate nuisance animals, these calls were referred to wildlife operators, who ultimately killed them. This happens all over the country and leads to the death of thousands of innocent animals every year.

While you may be fine with raccoons getting used to your hand-outs, your neighbors are likely to disagree. Raccoons who approach humans for food are often mistaken for being rabid, or they may cause damage to a neighbor’s home by breaking into trash cans and attics. This is a death sentence for the animal.

In general, feeding wildlife isn’t a good idea. But, if you insist on giving a hand to your local trash pandas, please do so in broad daylight when they’re nowhere to be seen and NEVER feed them directly by hand. For the safety of the animals, don’t let them figure out that you’re the source of their snacks.

There is no such thing as a humane leghold trap!

For Fox Sake has treated several wild animals with horrible injuries caused by leghold traps. In every case we have seen, the traps had been set by people who believed a common industry lie— that modern leghold traps are nothing like those of the past, and that they safely and humanely restrain animals without harm.

It’s true that steel-jawed traps with “teeth” are no longer sold. Today’s steel traps certainly look much more humane than their predecessors and are marketed with safe-sounding terms like “cushion” and “soft hold.” But behind the smoke and mirrors, all leghold traps still function by using immense pressure to restrain an animal by its limb, and the animal is very likely to get hurt in the process.

Please choose more humane alternatives. If you absolutely must trap an animal, use a cage trap.

U.S. Rabbits Don’t Burrow

Cottontail rabbits are often unfairly blamed for lawn damage. Because wild rabbits in Europe form large warrens out of clustered burrows, the image of a rabbit burrow has entered our culture through everything from children’s books to cartoons. If you assumed that wild rabbits have been digging burrows in your lawn, you’re not alone!

The fact is that cottontail rabbits nest not in burrows, but in very shallow depressions or hollows. These nests are so small and shallow that they’re very easy to miss and often indistinguishable from patches of dry grass. If you have conspicuous tunnels or burrows in your yard, there are many possible residents— including groundhogs, chipmunks, pocket gophers, and moles— but wild rabbits aren’t among them.

Love Persimmons? Thank a Raccoon!

Although persimmons aren’t as popular as they once were, you might still be lucky enough to find them at farmer’s markets and international grocery stores. If you’re lucky, you might also have a persimmon tree providing fruit on your own land! Believe it or not, the American persimmon as we know it wouldn’t exist without raccoons. American persimmons have a very low germination rate unless they’re passed through the digestive system of a raccoon. Persimmon trees and raccoons co-evolved to help each other out, with the persimmon being a steady annual food source for raccoons, and the raccoon helping persimmons to disperse and grow. American persimmons almost never grow naturally in areas where raccoons aren’t there to help!

Tennessee: Salamander Capital of the World

We’re proud to live in such a beautiful, remarkable area teeming with life! Tennessee is home to more salamander species than any other part of the world. Over 60 species of salamander—12% of species on Earth!— are native to Tennessee, with most of those living here in the eastern quarter of the state.

The one pictured here is the Tellico salamander, an endangered species unique to the lowlands near For Fox Sake. Like most salamanders, these critters are at risk due to habitat loss, pesticides, and climate change. There is also a risk that fatal diseases could wipe out Tennessee’s entire salamander population if they’re introduced to our environment through illegally imported and released pets.

Please help protect our beautiful native animals.

Bobcats: Powerful Predators

Bobcats in our area are only slightly larger than house cats, but they possess powerful jaws. Despite being only slightly larger than a house cat, a bobcat has a bite stronger than that of a fox, coyote, lynx, dog, cheetah, or snow leopard. Its total bite strength in Newtons actually surpasses that of some of the largest predators on earth!

Rabbits and hares comprise the majority of a bobcat’s diet, but when smaller prey is hard to come by, some bobcats will adapt by killing fawns and occasionally adult deer. One radio-collared male bobcat in Florida was noted to hunt adult bucks over ten times his own size!

There’s no reason for concern, though: we’re not in the menu! Bobcats have never been known to kill humans— even very small ones— and tend to stay far away from us whenever possible.

Bobkitten or Regular Kitten?

Take a look at this kitten. This is a 100% domestic cat… not a bobcat, and not a hybrid!

A fully domestic house cat!

We were disappointed in some of the responses to Arwen the bobcat, who was brought to us by a well-meaning woman who had mistaken her for a domestic kitten. Several people called her names like “stupid” and “idiot” for the honest mistake. One person even called her a narcissist, like she had done this on purpose. Rude! It was an accident by someone trying to save a kitten’s life, not an act of cruelty!

Arwen, a bobkitten who was mistaken for a house cat.

The fact is that cases of mistaken identity happen with some frequency, because many domestic kittens DO look like bobcats, and because many young bobkittens can look nearly indistinguishable from house cats.

Knowing how to save kittens— and how to save wildlife— is important so these accidents don’t continue happening. So how can you tell what’s what?

One of the best identifiers for a true bobcat is its tail, which usually contains three vertebrae. (You don’t have to count them, but it’s a little longer than a “stumpy” bobtail housecat and a lot shorter than a typical cat.)

A bobcat’s tail will have a black tip on the outward-facing side, but will be solid white on the underside.

Bobcat kittens are usually much larger for their age than house cat kittens, though this can get murky in our area, where bobcats are fairly small.

Actual bobcat kittens always have spots. These may be faint freckle-like spots, leopard-like rosettes, or bold polka dots, but they will always be present in some form. Spots on house cats are rare.

Young bobcats do NOT always have tufted ears, so do not depend on this as an identifier.

Still not sure what you’ve got? Please call a wildlife rehabilitator promptly. It’s important to identify the animal in your care quickly so it can either be reunited with its mother or brought to an appropriate rescue.

There’s a plus side to the existence of bobcat lookalike house cats! If you’re a fan of the idea of having a bobcat as a pet, you can check your local shelter and likely find a house cat who’s exactly what you want! Rescuing a lookalike is much kinder, cheaper, and more ethical than trying to raise a bobcat as a pet.

The Tennessee Cave Salamander

If we asked you to think of an endangered animal, you’d likely picture something huge and beautiful and majestic. You may even think of an animal that is no longer endangered, like the giant panda or bald eagle. But you probably don’t think of the small, modest endangered animals that live right here in our own city.

Large, pretty animals— called “charismatic megafauna” in ecology circles— tend to be the icons of wildlife conservation. They attract visitors to zoos and parks and spark marches and movies. And while charismatic megafauna matter, they sometimes cause us to ignore the plights of the animals we’re most capable of helping.

The Tennessee cave salamander lives naturally in cave systems right here in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. It’s in grave danger of extinction because of pollution and development of the streams and wetlands that drain into the caves where it lives. Fertilizers, industrial waste, pesticides, dams, and logging are all destroying the Tennessee cave salamander’s fragile habitat. Without urgent action, this little animal is likely to become extinct within our lifetimes.

So what can you to do help? Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to care. Speed the word about Tennessee cave salamanders and push for more public understanding of all endangered animals, not just the ones who are noteworthy for being large and exotic and beautiful.

Be mindful of your own ecological impact, here in the Tennessee cave salmanader’s native range. Don’t waste water. Don’t overuse lawn chemicals. Don’t litter or dump oil or antifreeze. Support local conservation groups, like the Chattanooga Audubon Society and Tennessee Aquarium. Together, we can help protect our own native treasures.

Chipmunks are Harmless: Don’t Hurt Them!

Pest control companies seeking your business may be quick to exaggerate— or even totally fabricate— the damage that chipmunks can cause. Please don’t be in a rush to harm these little guys!

Eastern chipmunk burrows have tiny entrances only about the size of a quarter, so unless your lawn is so neat and tidy that it could pass for AstroTurf, these holes aren’t likely to even be noticeable. Chipmunks do not chew wood or cause damage to trees or homes, although they may occasionally nibble the berries or flowers off ornamental plants.

Although any mammal can carry fleas and ticks (and the diseases they transmit) chipmunks themselves aren’t considered to be at a high risk for any disease affecting cats, dogs, or humans, so there’s no need to eliminate your resident chippies for anyone’s safety.

Please let your chipmunk neighbors stay in their home! But, if you absolutely must evict a chipmunk family, please seek humane ways to repel and exclude them rather than rushing to the exterminator.