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September 26, 2013

SFWC Saves Pregnant Raccoon

Lifesaving surgery lets raccoon give birth in natural habitat

  • Following successful surgery to repair a hernia, healthy baby raccoons can be seen in their mother's x-ray. SFWC

  • A pregnant raccoon awaits release following surgery. SFWC

She was hit by a motorcycle and left for dead. Even after our ambulance picked her up and brought her to South Florida Wildlife Center (SFWC), she was barely responsive and had labored breathing. And there was another complication that we were soon to discover—a radiograph showed she was pregnant.

The extent of the raccoon’s injuries made it unclear if she and her kits would all survive. She had a hernia that allowed her intestines to shift unnaturally up into her chest cavity, a fatal condition. One of the Center’s veterinarians, Dr. Antonia Gardner, performed the emergency surgery to repair the hernia.

While the surgery would save the pregnant raccoon, Dr. Gardner was concerned that the raccoon’s blood oxygen levels during surgery may dip to a level that would threaten the lives of her babies. To minimize this risk, Dr. Gardner utilized an oxygen-generating machine, generously donated by the Kislak Family Fund for regular use at SFWC, to provide a continuous flow of oxygen during surgery. Incredibly, just days after the surgery, x-rays showed that the babies were in fact still developing normally, growing ever bigger, and very much alive!

With a raccoon’s gestation period lasting only 63 days, it was important that we work quickly to help her recover in time to give birth in her natural environment in the wild. While observing her in an outdoor habitat at South Florida Wildlife Center, staff ensured that she had a healthy fear of humans, so necessary for survival in the wild, that she was able to forage for her own food, and that she could climb well, which would help her evade predators in the wild. After just two weeks at the Center, the pregnant raccoon was ready for release, just in time to give birth to her babies in nature, where they belong.

Several criteria are considered when selecting a release site for a raccoon. The area must be a safe distance from major roads and provide enough wooded area to allow for hiding during the day. There must also be sufficient natural food sources and water availability so that the raccoon is able to forage on her own. Fortunately, property owners in a nearby community agreed to allow for her to be released on their large, 100-acre property, thereby ensuring her a safe, protected area in which to give birth.

We are happy to report that following her release, mother and babies were seen alive and well, enjoying the roomy new territory that is now their home.

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