Raccoons are one of the most distinctive and recognizable animals in the world, known for their iconic black mask-like markings around their eyes and striped tails. These clever, omnivorous mammals have captured the imagination of people across the globe with their mischievous behavior and amazing dexterity. But what countries are raccoons actually found in?

Native Raccoon Range

The raccoon (Procyon lotor) is native to North and Central America, with its original range covering most of the United States, across the southern regions of Canada, and into Mexico and Central America as far south as Panama. Every state in the continental United States has an established raccoon population except for a few in the Mountain West like Nevada, Idaho, and Wyoming where historical records are limited.

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Raccoons have been present in North America for thousands of years, with fossil evidence dating back over 20 million years. The name “raccoon” itself comes from the Powhatan word “aroughcun” which roughly translates to “animal that scratches with its hands.” This refers to the raccoon’s trademark behavior of using its extremely dexterous front paws to overturn and inspect objects.

The raccoon’s original habitat was largely divided between forests, swamps, marshes, and prairie regions. Their adaptability allowed them to thrive in both wilderness areas as well as around human settlements, helping them survive the expansion of European colonialism and westward migration across their native territory.

Introduction to New Countries

In the 20th century, raccoons were both intentionally and accidentally introduced to countries outside of their native range by humans. Pet raccoons sometimes escaped or were released by owners, while others stowed away on ships and made their way to new lands.

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As a result, breeding populations of raccoons became established in parts of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East over the past several decades. Some countries embraced their new raccoon inhabitants, while others viewed them as a potentially invasive or disruptive species.

Countries with Non-Native Raccoon Populations

Here are some of the major countries around the world, outside of the raccoon’s native range, that now have established raccoon populations:

Germany – Raccoons were first introduced to Germany in the 1920s and their population rapidly expanded from there across much of Europe. Germany is now estimated to have over 1 million raccoons within its borders.

France – Smaller raccoon populations can be found across parts of France, especially in rural farming regions. Their numbers are lower than Germany due to disease outbreaks.

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Japan – Pet raccoons brought to Japan in the mid-20th century established breeding populations on Honshu Island and surrounding areas. The raccoon is considered an invasive species in Japan.

Uzbekistan – A strange, isolated population of raccoons was discovered in Uzbekistan in the 2000s, likely descended from raccoons that escaped from a zoo or fur farm decades earlier.

Israel – Raccoons were first spotted in the wild in Israel in the 1980s around the center of the country, having been likely former pets that were released or escaped. Their numbers have slowly grown since.

Raccoon dog

Russia – Small populations of raccoons exist along the Black Sea coastal region of Russia, after being introduced there from Ukraine and areas of Eastern Europe.

Spain – An expanding raccoon population has been established in northern Spain in the past few decades, causing some concern from local wildlife officials.

Other scattered populations have been found in countries like Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and a few Caribbean islands though they have not necessarily become permanent residents.

Overall Impact

The introduction of raccoons to new countries has raised both excitement and concern depending on the location. Where they are seen as an attractive, charismatic species, raccoons are celebrated. However, in areas where they are considered invasive, there are fears they could outcompete native wildlife or spread disease.

Raccoon dog

Raccoons themselves have shown their characteristic adaptability in the face of new surroundings, habitats, and climates. Their clever resourcefulness and ability to coexist in human-occupied areas has allowed them to establish footholds even in some highly urbanized parts of Europe and Asia.

While raccoons will likely never become widespread globally, their introduction to new lands shows no signs of slowing. More and more people around the world may have a chance to witness these fascinating creatures with their bright, curious eyes and striped tails scampering through the underbrush or rummaging through trashcans.

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