An S.F. father and son were walking their dog in Golden Gate Park on Thursday when they turned the corner and encountered 14 cavorting raccoons.
Marc Estoque and his boy were surprised to see the animals in broad daylight and approach so closely as they made their way along a trail next to North Lake near 43rd Avenue and Fulton.
“It was so surreal…a posse of bandits…like out of a movie,” Estoque said. “And then two minutes later there was a coyote. I was waiting for the unicorn to pop out.”
He captured photos and video of the moment and he’s sharing them to raise awareness about an increasing problem in the park with people feeding wildlife and the animals losing their natural fear of humans and congregating in large groups. Estoque and his son didn’t offer the critters food, but the raccoons were likely looking for snacks.
“We want to keep the animals wild,” he said.
Wildlife ecologist Jonathan Young said food handouts to wildlife increases the potential for attacks on humans, and he has witnessed people in the park hand-feeding animals.
“I’ve seen it first hand in that area and people were feeding them in broad daylight,” said Young, who works for the Presidio Trust. “And there were at least this many people huddled around that person. It’s not good. It’s really bad.”
Young added that a colleague was recently bitten by a raccoon on her patio.
Amy Corso, field services supervisor for San Francisco’s Animal Care & Control, echoed Young’s statement and said when the animals become aggressive officials often resort to lethal removal.
“Unfortunately, it’s a big problem in San Francisco,” Corso said. “Feeding wildlife alters their behavior and can cause lots of problems. Animals that are fed by people become dependent on human food and may lose their natural fear of humans and their ability to forage for natural foods.”
She added: “There’s a saying, ‘Fed wildlife is dead wildlife.'”
San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Department said raccoons have been a problem in the North Lake area and the department launched a campaign to educate the public.
“We’ve been posting signage and doing education and outreach in the area, talking to people about the harmful consequences for the animals and handing out flyers in English, Chinese and Spanish,” said Rec and Parks spokesperson Tamara Aparton. “Rangers have also increased patrols in the area.”
Feeding wildlife is punishable as a misdemeanor with a fine up to $1,000 and/or six months in jail.
Amy Graff is the news editor with SFGATE. Email her: [email protected]