We still had all the paraphernalia we used while raising Dolly Marie, so I was pretty certain we could at least get the babies settled in and then learn more about how to care for two little rascals! While I was doing this Jack, my husband, had planned ahead and found the cage we were going to put them in. He had washed it out and had it waiting on the driveway when I pulled up. His first view of them was of two little brown and black furry babies curled up together. He immediately said “Awww they are so cute!” I found the much needed leather gloves and took each kit out and put it in the cage. They were adorable with their black eyes and little black masks on their faces. They each had two black “hands” and two black “feet” I say hands an feet because they actually have 5 digits on each limb, long black fingers and long black claws. The bottoms of their hands and feet have little baby-soft pads on them that feel almost like velvet! Each little tail had about 5 dark rings on them with lighter colored rings in-between, and was bout 4 inches long. Their bodies were covered in short, fluffy fur, and long coarser fur known as guard hairs. Their fur was tan, brown and black and looked so soft, but actually it felt kind of coarse, and the coarser fur kind of stood out in all directions. They looked like they needed to be brushed, however I decided they needed to rest and get liquid in them first.
Usually I’m the one who names all the the animals in our care, but I asked Jack to name them this time. He thought about it for maybe a minute and said “Ranger and Bandit”! Ranger for the old TV program The Lone Ranger (because he wore a black mask) and Bandit (because in cartoons we see bandits wearing black masks when they are stealing something). We weren’t sure how we could tell them apart to give them their names, but upon further scrutiny found their markings to be slightly different. Ranger had a long, thin black stripe down his nose, and Bandit had a wider black stripe down his nose. There, now we know who’s who and by dangerously closer examination we found that they were brothers.
RANGER TO THE RESCUE!
We moved their cage to a warm, dark spot in my office so they could rest and recuperate. Orphaned baby animals need to rest for about 24 hours and be hydrated with something that will give them the electrolytes necessary to survive. I put a small container in their cage with Pedialyte in it to see what would happen. Ranger looked around and sniffed and soon found the drinking bowl and drank a little bit. Suddenly Ranger began to screech! I was so worried that I had given him something that was bad for him! Ranger screeched and Bandit just stayed curled up in a little ball. Bandit’s eyes were sort of glazed over and I was terrified he would die. He didn’t even move! We watched for another minute or two and suddenly Ranger went over to Bandit and started nudging and pulling at him. Pretty soon Ranger bit onto Bandit’s tail and pulled him across the cage to the water bowl! We were so amazed at the strong bond between these two little brothers! After Bandit had a couple of “licks” of liquid he began to rally. If it wasn’t for Ranger’s insistence Bandit probably would have died! From that time on Bandit has been the follower and Ranger has been the leader. They stay right close together and really panic if they get separated.
THE PROCESS BEGINS…:-)
While the babies were resting I immediately started searching the internet for information on raising baby raccoons. All of the sites had warnings about how troublesome and exhausting it can be to tackle a project like this, but what choice did I have? We didn’t have any “rescuers” in our area (I checked), and I couldn’t just let them perish!
Baby raccoons need to get their body temperature up to about 102 degrees (their natural temp.) before you attempt to feed them anything but electrolytes. I placed a heating pad, on the low setting, on the floor I then placed a thick terrycloth towel over it. I then placed their cage over half of the heating pad so half of it remained cool in case the warm setting was too uncomfortable for them. We sat there for the longest time just watching these two adorable little fur-balls contentedly drift off to la-la-land. They both heaved a big sigh and went right to sleep. I carefully placed a dark towel over the cage so they wouldn’t become distracted with their new surroundings, and my husband and I left the room. Of course I had to sneak back upstairs many times just to peek in on them!
I read that the raccoons could eat baby rice cereal watered down with the Pedialyte I had purchased earlier in the day. Baby raccoons cannot have regular milk at first or it could kill them, however they could have newborn kitten formula. I made a quick trip to the store to get the formula, rice cereal, some apple sauce and some baby food to experiment with over the next few days. I had previously learned from Dolly Marie, our pet squirrel, that our new charges would be continual taste testers, their sense of taste seems to change daily, sometimes twice daily, so I had prepared with quite a variety of food items.
Bandit and Ranger’s first real meal was kitten formula with a small amount of rice cereal, just enough to make it a little bit thicker so it would fill their tummies. I enlarged the hole in the end of the bottle nipple so the mixture could flow through somewhat easily. In order to keep the babies from aspirating the food, I held them upright with their little front feet in my hand. To say the least, they were absolutely thrilled to get some food for the first time in about 3 days! I could only handle one raccoon at a time because each one would get so excited over the food he would literally climb out of my arms to get more. Ranger was such an avid eater he actually pulled the nipple off the bottle and we both ended up getting covered in formula and rice cereal! Bandit ate a bit slower and managed to get more in his tummy than on either of us. This process was repeated every four hours, twenty-four hours a day for about two weeks. After feeding each kit I would lay him over my shoulder and burp him, just like a human baby. I would praise each one for eating and burping and then put them back in the cage to sleep for a few hours. I could instantly tell that my laundry stack was going to grow considerably while these two were with us. I would change my clothing at least two times a day (wearing an apron or using a towel down the front of me didn’t work at all), and change their bedding every four hours to keep their sleeping area clean. It’s really a shame there isn’t a diaper service for orphaned baby animals!
WHOSE WHO AND WHOSE HOW…?
Now that we could identify each kit by his markings, we began to notice the difference in their personalities as well. Ranger was the gregarious one, always looking around, making the most noise, hissing when he was startled, and laying over his brother when they slept.. Our little Bandit was shy, fairly quiet, slept quite a bit more, didn’t make too much noise, and was always in a corner or with his back to me. Bandit pretty much followed Ranger’s lead.
I worried more about Bandit because he came so close to dying before I was able to rescue them. Little Bandy’s eyes were all but glazed over when I found him, and he had absolutely no strength in his little furry body. Both Ranger and Bandit were very dehydrated at first, I could gently pull up a section of their skin and it would stay in that position. I could tell both of them were very, very close to expiring when I got to them! My heart was full of love for Bandit and Ranger and I really wanted to help them survive and grow to adults. It took a lot of hours of feeding and loving each one of them to get them acting like regular kits. Soon they were both full of mischief and play. I was thrilled to see each one begin to progress!
WHOSE YOUR MAMA…?
A couple of weeks after Bandit and Ranger were part of our family. I went upstairs one morning to feed them and I began to talk to them as I reached the door of my office (where they were currently living), and Ranger jumped up and thrust both his arms through the cage and reached out for me! Well needless to say, my heart melted! I put my hands up to the cage and Ranger’s little black hands began to touch and explore mine. He was so intent on learning about the hands that fed him. It wasn’t much longer before Bandit climbed over and copied what his brother was doing. I had four adorable little black hands holding mine. Raccoons have 5 digits on each hand and each foot. They are very dexterous and can climb up things, pick up and examine things, and groom themselves with their long fingers. Each finger and toe has a long black claw at the end that doesn’t retract like a cat’s claw, and it’s very easy for someone to get scratched by them unintentionally, or heaven forbid intentionally!!
One morning I was holding Bandit and feeding him while he was holding onto his bottle much as a human baby would. When he was full he let go of the bottle and reached up with his two little hands and patted my face. I was smitten, that was the sweetest little gesture! The babies were now identifying me as their surrogate mama, which made feeding time much more pleasant.
To be continued…
Copyright 2009, Jan C. Snow
A continuing story of Bandit and Ranger, our little Raccoon charges.