Calls from the RSPCA for the sale of Raccoon Dogs in the UK to be banned amid sporadic reports of some living wild in the country, has once again put invasive species back in the spotlight. This charismatic canid has gained a loyal following, primarily due to its endearing appearance, and can be bought online for as little as £150 – currently making it flavour of the month as an exotic pet. Whether it’s the sale online, or otherwise, of a popular exotic animal that soon becomes unwanted due to its acute unsuitability as a pet; or escapees from a wildlife park or zoo – the pattern of events is depressingly familiar and often ends in a cull instead of capture.
Native to the Far East of Asia – including South Korea, Japan, China and Siberia – over 9000 were released into western regions of the former Soviet Union between 1929 and 1955, having been bred in fur farms. They soon spread into Finland at a time when numbers of Lynx and Wolf were very low, which is believed to have assisted their proliferation. In countries such as Estonia, where Wolf and Lynx populations were relatively high, their numbers were kept low and their spread was contained. Sweden was next, and a strict culling policy was implemented, but not before the voracious and highly adaptable omnivore had consumed a vast number of small mammals, amphibians and ground-nesting birds.
By the early 1960s, they had colonised much of Central Europe and would move further south and west during the subsequent decades: their expansion facilitated by a prolific reproductive rate and litter size. This is a cause for concern not only because they compete for den sites and food with endemic mammals like the fox and badger in the UK, but for the reason they can also carry a multitude of parasites and diseases – some of which can be transmitted to humans, as well as native wildlife.
There is currently no strong evidence to suggest that a wild population is established in the UK, however, sightings and captures are gradually increasing, having already been reported in parts of Wales, Berkshire, Derbyshire and Scotland. It’s currently an offence, under the Wildlife and Countyside Act 1981 to release, or allow the escape, of invasive species such as the Raccoon Dog. For the UK’s native wildlife, a ban on their sale cannot come soon enough.