Raccoons - Immigrants from Wild West
1 x 50 min
Producer: Christian Baumeister
Director: Heiko de Groot
DP: Michael Riegler, Alexander Sommer
Music: Oliver Heuss
Format: HD 1080
LIGHT & SHADOW for WDR, NDR Naturfilm
In Germany, the local population has been struggling with American immigrants – immigrant raccoons, that is. U.S. households have long tried to keep these keen, striped-tailed animals at bay, seeing them as more of a pest than wildlife. But Germans actually imported raccoons on purpose for hunting; they introduced small numbers into German forests during World War II, and the raccoons have thrived there ever since, now numbering over half a million.
Wild raccoons reveal social habits and behavior very few people have seen, and show how these extremely successful animals adapted to a new environment. At the same time, raccoons have ignited a heated debate in Germany about invasive species and damage to the country’s habitat. This film tells the story of wild raccoons’ unique lives and survival tactics in nature, while also narrating the species’ arrival abroad, its bouts with humankind and the latest scientific studies that show the reality of the raccoon’s footprint in Europe.
This film celebrates the raccoon as a truly unstoppable species that has not only flourished in its native United States, but has also successfully overtaken new lands in Europe – both wild and civilized. Equipped with thumbs, raccoons wash their food before eating, open containers, and survive, often against the odds.
In the magical forests, fields, meadows and moors of Müritz National Park, raccoons have found an ideal existence. In the “wild” portions of the film, we follow a raccoon family during the course of one year in this spectacular landscape – foraging, mating, and raising young in social family groups. Here, raccoons live alongside numerous other wild animals including cranes, ospreys, Eurasian otters, and common European vipers. The stories of these animals, each with their own unique behavior and interactions with raccoons, are interspersed throughout this colorful film.
While many remain in the wild, racoons’ extreme cunning and resourcefulness has led them to exploit human civilization in Germany, much as they do in the U.S. The species was brought to Germany intentionally in the 1920s to fuel the booming fur trade. But it is difficult to keep this plucky animal down: several captives from fur farms escaped and reproduced aplenty. Others were released into the wild to be hunted for sport or to enrich local fauna. Although humans willingly helped raccoons cross the Atlantic, nowadays Europeans consider them invasive and unwelcome. Raccoons are rooted out by exterminators in populated areas and hunted in the countryside. Parallel to the wild raccoon sequences, we develop the human-raccoon-story, following this resilient species from its voyage across the ocean to persecution by hunters and finally to the research studies that pinpoint these animals’ true impact on their European habitat.
Science has shown that the bad reputation of these highly social animals is not necessarily justified. Although they might sometimes plunder a nest full of eggs, high raccoon densities do not threaten ground-breeding birds as many raccoon-opponents allege. Studies from Hamburg and Dresden University in the Müritz National Park yield more and more interesting facts about these animals. Radio collars allow insight into raccoons’ daily routine, and DNA samples decipher their family history. The data paints a picture not of a villain or pest, but an immigrant animal that long ago integrated itself into the local fauna.