27 May 2007

European Raccoons’ Nazi Past

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Washington Post:

In 1934, top Nazi party official Hermann Goering received a seemingly mundane request from the Reich Forestry Service. A fur farm near here was seeking permission to release a batch of exotic bushy-tailed critters into the wild to “enrich the local fauna” and give bored hunters something new to shoot at.

Goering approved the request and unwittingly uncorked an ecological disaster that is still spreading across Europe. The imported North American species, Procyon lotor, or the common raccoon, quickly took a liking to the forests of central Germany. Encountering no natural predators — and with hunters increasingly called away by World War II — the woodland creatures fruitfully multiplied and have stymied all attempts to prevent them from overtaking the Continent. …

Raccoons have crawled across the border to infest each of Germany’s neighbors and now range from the Baltic Sea to the Alps. Scientists say they have been spotted as far east as Chechnya. British tabloids have warned that it’s only a matter of time until the “Nazi raccoons” cross the English Channel. …

The Germans call them Waschbaeren, or “wash bears,” because they habitually wash their paws and douse their food in water.

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