An update from the Milton Police has been included below
In news fitting for a Friday, it seems the mystery of the stumbling, glazed-eyed raccoons in a small town in West Virginia has been solved. These furry “masked bandits” were not rabid, they simply indulged in a few too many fermented crab apples and were tipsy. Humans called the police on them, worried about their – er – disorderly behavior.
“We have had calls on suspected rabid raccoons twice over the last two days. Turns out they appear to be drunk on crab apples,” the Milton Police Department noted in a Facebook post on Monday.
"This would and does happen naturally in the wild, so is not too surprising," said Dr Suzanne MacDonald, a professor in the Department of Psychology at York University who researches animal behavior, including that of raccoons, to IFLScience. "We just don’t usually get to see it!"
Such a mistake is understandable and, of course, it is best to be careful in these situations. Rabies is a viral disease that infects the central nervous system and can result in a suite of debilitating symptoms and death.
Can other animals get drunk off substances in their environment? Why yes, yes they can. It seems male butterflies sometimes enjoy booze (possibly to boost their spermatophores for the ladies) and white-tailed deer can indulge in too many rotting apples, according to National Geographic.
Pen-tailed treeshrews like to drink the nectar of bertam palm flowers – which have one of the highest alcohol levels recorded in a natural food – at doses “that would intoxicate humans.” These treeshrews, however, are troopers and seem immune to the intoxicating effects.
"For sure, various animal species have been known to get tipsy on fermented berries and apples," said Dr MacDonald. "Birds fly into windows, mammals like moose and, yes, raccoons can also get inebriated."
Only one to three rabies cases are reported in humans per year in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is primarily due to animal control, outreach programs, and vaccinations. Despite this, 30,000 to 60,000 people per year are administered with rabies post-exposure prophylaxis as a precaution after interaction with suspect animals.
So if you do see a staggering coon, don’t approach it (even if there is crab apple evidence nearby), it could still be rabid.
“If you see a staggering and disoriented raccoon please do not approach it. It could be sick so call us and we’ll take care of it,” noted the Milton Police Department.
Update provided by the Milton Police Department to Gizmodo:
A representative for the department said it has captured three raccoons, two of which may have distemper. They still maintain that the third was likely drunk on crab apples.
[H/T: Washington Post]