Farmed for his or her fur or taken as pets, raccoons aren’t indigenous to Alaska, however they’ve a protracted and attention-grabbing historical past

Farmed for his or her fur or taken as pets, raccoons aren’t indigenous to Alaska, however they’ve a protracted and attention-grabbing historical past
Farmed for his or her fur or taken as pets, raccoons aren’t indigenous to Alaska, however they’ve a protracted and attention-grabbing historical past

A part of a seamless weekly collection on Alaska historical past by native historian David Reamer. Have a query about Anchorage or Alaska historical past or an thought for a future article? Go to the shape on the backside of this story.

Two competing ideas might be true on the identical time. Alaskans love nature as it’s. Alaskans additionally love to reinforce nature with trails, roads, bridges, cities, lodges and each different type of manufactured incursion. In the identical manner, Alaska wildlife supplied yesteryear trappers and fur farmers a plethora of fuzzy choices, from foxes to minks. But, many Alaskan fur farmers imported some non-native options, together with skunks and chinchillas.

Raccoons, additionally not indigenous to Alaska, have been one of many extra stunning fur shares shipped north. The context and perpetrator(s) are unknown, however the first raccoons in Alaska could have been launched on the Brothers Islands in 1913. Six years later, their descendants have been nonetheless alive on the Inside Passage islands. And as these raccoons have been discovered for at the very least a while on the islands, so are they discovered on the fringes of Alaska and nationwide historical past.

On the earth of 1913 Alaska, importing raccoons was a radical alternative given the availability and costs of furs. World Struggle I modified the calculus. Among the many extra minor downstream penalties of the conflict was a dramatic improve in home fur costs. Shifting priorities and manpower led to shortages throughout the conflict. With a comparatively unaltered demand, the market response was predictable. As Sarah Crawford Isto famous in her 2012 e book, “The Fur Farms of Alaska: Two Centuries of Historical past and a Forgotten Stampede,” the identical Alaska blue fox pelt that bought for $47 in 1914 was going for $130 in 1920 (roughly $1,400 and $2,000 , respectively, in 2022 {dollars}).

In Alaska particularly, the success of a fur farm close to Cordova illuminates the revenue potential in furs on the time. In a 1920 go to to Cordova, Joe and Caroline Ibach of Middleton Island unloaded a bounty of fox pelts value $17,000 (roughly $261,000 in 2022). This windfall was a marked improve over their earlier 12 months’s additionally profitable journey to the market with $10,000 in furs (roughly $180,000 in 2022 {dollars}).

For these people enviously eyeing the market, furs seem to be a secure commodity with decrease obstacles to entry than many different fortune hunter paths. Fur farms considerably proliferated all through Alaska within the subsequent 20 years.

The Alaska fur farming stampede coincided with the booming reputation of raccoons in American well-liked tradition. Probably the most well-known raccoon of this period was Rebecca, a treasured White Home visitor of the Calvin Coolidge administration. In 1926, some Mississippians despatched Rebecca to the president with the intent of her being a part of that 12 months’s Thanksgiving meal. As an alternative, she turned their beloved pet, wandering the White Home, incessantly inflicting mischief, and dwelling in a tree home on the grounds. As a tangent to a tangent, Rebecca was not the primary White Home raccoon. President Teddy Roosevelt and his household owned sufficient pets to kind a petting zoo, together with at the very least one ring-tailed bandit. And as a tangent to the tangent’s tangent, an opossum took up residence in Rebecca’s treehouse as soon as Coolidge left workplace. President Herbert Hoover, Coolidge’s successor, adopted the opossum and named him Billy.

Nonetheless, the coats have been the actual raccoon fad of the Nineteen Twenties. Raccoon coats, which require 27 to 30 raccoon pelts, have been extraordinarily well-liked with males throughout the decade, particularly youthful males. They have been conspicuously current on school campuses. The 1928 track “Doin’ the Raccoon” included the next lyrics:

From each school campus comes the cheer: oy-yoy!

The season for the raccoon coat is right here, my boy!

Tough guys, robust guys, males of dignity,

Be a part of the raccoon coat fraternity,

Quickly, to do the raccoon!

The thriving raccoon fur market prompted Alaska fur farmers to deliver extra raccoons into the territory, to money in on the style pattern. In 1919, CE Zimmerman, who additionally educated his blue foxes to carry out tips, launched raccoons to the Brothers Islands, the identical location as the sooner raccoon imports.

Round 1930, Perry Cole repeatedly claimed he would add raccoons to the Angora goat, Arctic fox, blue fox and muskrat inventory at his Cole Black Fox and Farm close to Kasilof. In March 1930, CP Snyder handed by way of Anchorage with 5 raccoons sure for his new fur farm close to Manley Sizzling Springs. In 1934, the Alaska Sport Fee found the presence of free raccoons round Petersburg, the escapees of an unidentified fur farm. Throughout the Thirties, AW Bennett additionally had raccoons on his Lengthy Island fur farm.

Round 1938, Louis Scott, who had a mink farm on El Capitan Island, west of Prince of Wales Island, launched 5 feminine and three male black raccoons. In 1940, Joseph Daymond imported two raccoons from a breeding farm in Albany, Indiana, intent on releasing them on the Coronados Islands south of Craig.

Sadly for fur farmers, raccoons appear nearly designed to be escape artists. They’re clever, adaptable, dexterous, and glorious climbers. As well as, they’re voracious omnivores, in a position to survive off a really huge number of meals. These expertise — and appetites — are why raccoons have survived and even thrived regardless of the encroachment of people on their pure habitats. These expertise, and most particularly their appetites, are additionally why raccoons are a major risk as an invasive species. If launched in ample numbers, raccoons may doubtlessly carve huge swaths by way of ecosystems unprepared for his or her presence.

Louis Scott, like presumably all his raccoon-importing, fur-farming brethren, shortly regretted his alternative. In a 1947 letter to Victor Scheffer of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Scott lamented, “I’ve Black Raccoons in my hen home, in my feed room and in my hair. If I depart any fish or seal meat down on the float at night time the little bums pack it off by the arm hundreds … they cram themselves filled with crimson berries, salmon berries, salal berries and so forth. How they maintain busting a intestine is greater than I can see.” By 1947, 32 raccoons had been trapped on the adjoining El Capitan and Lion Islands, both the unique imports by Scott or their descendants. Space residents additionally noticed escaped raccoons, from Scott’s inventory or elsewhere, on Warren Island west of El Capitan Island.

The Nice Despair modified the market once more, and the variety of fur farms quickly declined. By the point America entered World Struggle II in 1941, there have been solely 40% as many fur farms in Alaska as there had been on the business’s peak. The final recognized raccoon introduction into Alaska occurred in 1950, on Japonski Island off of Sitka.

As with another fur farming inventory, the raccoon market shrunk and shifted. Whereas the raccoon fur business survived, the market was now not as strong because it had been many years earlier than, regardless of a Nineteen Fifties revival in raccoon coats. Within the wake of this variation, raccoons have been rising supplied as pets, if nonetheless comparatively not often. The primary ads in Alaska for pet raccoons didn’t coincidentally come within the Nineteen Fifties. In 1954, Anchorage’s Melody Lane Pet Store supplied a raccoon for $10 (about $110 in 2022).

From the Nineteen Fifties by way of the Seventies, raccoons stay an unique pet choice in Alaska, current right here however not frequent. Future Fairbanks membership proprietor and North Star Borough Assemblyman Pete Aiken owned two raccoons amongst a menagerie that ran the gamut of an everyday tortoise to 2 alligators. Throughout a 1960 fireplace that consumed his Chena Sizzling Springs Highway residence, he set the raccoons free moderately than allow them to die within the blaze.

In 1979, a person took his pet raccoon purchasing with him at Anchorage’s Sears Mall, an sudden prevalence. The raccoon scratched a Sears worker, a extra anticipated consequence. Raccoon and raccoon proprietor fled the scene, thus avoiding rabies testing and a doubtlessly extra dire finish for the pet.

Regardless of the instance of Rebecca within the White Home, raccoons are inclined to make for poor pets. In the principle, they’re mercurial, delinquent, excessive upkeep, and incessantly aggressive, particularly as they mature. Sure, some pet raccoons are beautiful and candy, however that isn’t the more than likely consequence from adopting one. Many raccoons have been dumped into the wild as soon as they turned an excessive amount of of a burden to their homeowners. When the Alaska Youngsters’s Zoo, now the Alaska Zoo, opened in 1969, most of the star sights had been burdensome or undesirable pets dumped into founder Sammye Seawell’s care, together with Annabelle the elephant and Danny the raccoon.

In 1979, the foundations concerning pet raccoons drastically modified. Raccoon homeowners beforehand needed to get hold of a allow. As of that 12 months, the Alaska Division of Fish and Sport expanded its unique pet ban to incorporate skunks and raccoons, amongst different animals. Permits have been nonetheless allowed for banned animals already in Alaska as of January 1, 1980.

Experiences of untamed raccoons dwindled over the latter half of the twentieth century. A former El Capitan Island resident claimed raccoons have been nonetheless there when she moved away in 2001, but it surely has been many years since another documented sighting. There could or might not be a raccoon operating round in Alaska immediately, however the desires of a considerable raccoon presence are long gone.

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Key sources:

“Alaskan Briefs.” Petersburg Press, July 4, 1941, 1, 2, 6.

“Alaskan Briefs.” Petersburg Press, November 15, 1940, 3.

Bower, Ward T. Alaska Fisheries and Fur Industries in 1919. Washington, DC: Authorities Printing Workplace, 1920.

“Cat Saves Aiken Life from Blaze.” Fairbanks Day by day Information-Miner, October 3, 1960, 1.

“Fur Farmers of Kusilof District Have Good 12 months.” Anchorage Day by day Occasions, August 1, 1929, 3.

“Essential Report on Sport Made by Alaska Sport Fee.” Anchorage Day by day Occasions, January 16, 1935, 7.

Isto, Sarah Crawford. The Fur Farms of Alaska: Two Centuries of Historical past and a Forgotten Stampede. Fairbanks: College of Alaska Fairbanks Press, 2012.

“Officers Search Raccoon Proprietor.” Anchorage Day by day Occasions, August 15, 1979, 2.

“Oldtimer Brings Fur Inventory North; Will Begin Farm.” Anchorage Day by day Occasions, March 28, 1930, 4.

Paul, Thomas W. “Sport Transplants in Alaska.” Alaska Division of Fish and Sport, Division of Wildlife Conservation Technical Bulletin #4 2nd Version, September 2009.

“Raccoons Transplanted in Alaska.” Journal of Wildlife Administration 11, no. 4 (1947): 350-351.

“State Limits Wild Animals as Pets.” Fairbanks Day by day Information-Miner, June 29, 1979, 2.