'Zombie raccoons' taking over northeast Ohio?

Zoe Greszler • Apr 5, 2018 at 4:00 AM

Police are investigating reports of “zombie-like” raccoons in northeast Ohio.

In just the past three weeks, Youngstown police have received more than 12 calls of people reporting raccoons being out during the day and acting strangely, according to WKBN-TV, a CBS affiliate.

Photographer Robert Coggeshall told the TV station he saw one while playing with his dogs outside his home about a week ago. He said the raccoon approached them — an unusual act for the animals normally known for avoiding humans and only appearing at night. Coggeshall put his dogs back in the house and said the raccoon followed them to the door.

“He would stand up on his hind legs, which I've never seen a raccoon do before, and he would show his teeth and then he would fall over backward and go into almost a comatose condition,” Coggeshall told WKBN-TV.

Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) officials told WKBN that the raccoons likely were suffering not from rabies, but distemper.

Distemper is a viral disease manifested by coughing, tremors and seizures and leads raccoons to lose their fear of humans. The Ohio Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) lists symptoms as including “discharge from the nose and eyes, a rough coat of hair, emaciated appearance and unusual behavior such as disorientation or wandering aimlessly.”

Locally, there haven’t been any recent reports of raccoons behaving oddly, said ODNR wildlife officer Nathan Kaufmann.

Kaufmann said he has received “maybe three or four” calls about raccoons that turned out to be infected with distemper, but there haven’t been any reports since then.

“That was throughout the whole of summer and fall,” he added.

The raccoon though in Youngstown was one of 15 that police there have euthanized recently because of the disease, according to WKBN-TV. 

DFW has said the animals can appear calm and docile at first, however, if another animal or human were to get too close, the infected animal quickly could become aggressive. Raccoons that behave unusually should be reported the local police or ODNR.

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