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Raccoons at Metro station about to find out kitchen is closed

By Nicole Norfleet
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 2, 2010; B04

For a hungry raccoon looking for an easy meal, the Fort Totten Metro station has been something of a smorgasbord. According to a recent wildlife assessment, the station has all the ingredients of a great grub site: accessible garbage cans and feeders with good intentions.

A day after Metro employees at the Fort Totten Station were reported to be feeding raccoons in front of commuters, the Humane Society of the United States partnered with Metro to conduct an inspection of the site.

Feeding makes raccoons too comfortable with humans, causing them to come out of hiding and mill about in hopes of being fed, said Laura Simon, field director for the society's Urban Wildlife Program. Startled people then call animal control, and the raccoons are killed, she said.

"It could be one person who is feeding the raccoons that changes their habits and spells out a death sentence," Simon said.

Raccoons at Fort Totten were "dining like kings," said John Griffin, director of Humane Wildlife Services, who inspected the area on behalf of the Humane Society. Fort Totten is an open-air station surrounded by wooded areas. Griffin said the raccoons are probably using the station more as a buffet than a den. After speaking with employees, he ascertained that raccoon feeding had been going on longer than a couple of months -- possibly for years.

"Most animal conflicts happen when humans feed animals knowingly or unknowingly," Griffin said.

As a response to the Humane Society's recommendations, Metro will empty the station's trash cans one last time right before closing, when raccoons are most likely to look for food, officials said.

Metro has also posted a sign asking commuters to refrain from feeding the animals. Additionally, the transit agency said it is planning to capture and relocate the raccoons "as soon as possible," said Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel.

Local trappers said raccoons near train stations are not uncommon.

In 2008, Adcock's Trapping Service worked with Amtrak to assess a raccoon problem at its Union Station train yard, said company President John Adcock Jr. The company gets about 800 calls a year about raccoons.

Females typically give birth at the beginning of April, he said. The best thing people can do is minimize temptations for the animals, Adcock said.

"They are going to always be around," he said. "There's nothing that you can do about that, but if you are giving out handouts, then they are going to associate people with food."

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