The raccoon dog is a little-known character on Britain’s growing list of non-native invasive species. Currently it is legal to purchase and import this non-native relative of the fox in to the UK, and there appears to be a fashion to buy and keep this animal as a novel pet
Unsuspecting owners subsequently find them to be difficult to manage and are thought to be releasing them into the countryside. Here they prey on native species, and are potential vectors for disease such as rabies or novel parasites. Organisations such as the RSPCA also have concerns for welfare of these animals as they believe that they do not make good pets, still being essentially wild animals.
The exact distribution of this mammal in Britain and Ireland is not fully known, but in other European countries it is breeding in the wild, and there are concerns that the same is likely to happen here. Raccoon dogs have a similar reproductive cycle to foxes and are likely to breed once a year with an average of 5-7 in a litter.
The raccoon dog, also known as the tanuki, is native to Japan, Siberia and China. Their sale as pets is due to be banned in February 2019 under European legislation but the Mammal Society is calling for sales to stop immediately in UK. There is concern that breeders in the UK are actively promoting and selling them as pets and this could mean a large number would be released in the next few years into the countryside.
Unintended or misguided releases could have serious impacts on our native flora and fauna. Species such as snapper turtles, terrapins, wallabies and racoons (not related to racoon dogs) have been appearing across the country, presumably because they, like racoon dogs, make very unsuitable pets and are simply dumped into the countryside by their owners.
Fiona Mathews, Chair of the Mammal Society and Professor of Environmental Biology at the University of Sussex says “Raccoon dogs pose a serious threat to our native wildlife and it is important that action is taken now to ensure that they do not spread across the UK. These animals can breed quickly and we want to avoid the problems being caused elsewhere in Europe. We urge the British public not to buy one and risk having to deal with a difficult and unsuitable pet in their home”.
Sightings of raccoon dogs should be reported to the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS) (www.nonnativespecies.org) and can also be submitted to Irecord via the free app or the website: www.brc.ac.uk/irecord