Police in a small Ohio town have been busy chasing masked bandits, but not the sort that hold up banks and run moonshine. No, these bandits have four legs and a striped tail. They’ve also been "terrorizing" residents of Youngstown for the last three weeks with their “zombie-like" demeanor.
Since last month, police have received more than a dozen calls reporting normally nocturnal raccoons staggering around in daylight like the undead only to collapse from lethargy before getting up again, reports local television station WKBN.
Photographer Robert Coggeshall was playing with his dogs in the front yard when he said he was chased off by the raccoon.
"I had Buddy and Corbin outside in my front yard when a drooling raccoon appeared nearby. I quickly got the dogs inside, quickly pursued by the raccoon. I went back outside and got the raccoon to chase me down into my backyard away from the house," said Coggeshall in a Facebook Post.
After putting the dogs in the house, Coggeshall came back to photograph the strange behavior.
“He would stand up on his hind legs, which I’ve never seen a raccoon do before, and he would show his teeth and then he would fall over backward and go into almost a comatose condition,” Coggeshall told the television station.
Residents say the raccoons seem fearless and don’t react to things that would normally scare them off, like loud noises or quick motions.
The behavior is odd, but it’s not unusual. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources says it sounds like a disease called distemper, rather than rabies. The viral disease normally infects foxes, coyotes, skunks, and unvaccinated dogs, but infections are likely to occur in large raccoon populations, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). It is spread when animals come into direct contact with bodily fluids or droppings from an infected animal. The ODFW says outbreaks seem to run in cycles of every five to seven years.
The virus attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems to cause brain damage, which probably explains the raccoons’ bizarre behavior. Raccoons can also suffer from diarrhea, seizures, and immobility, according to National Geographic. Symptoms include discharge from the nose and eyes, a rough coat of hair, looking emaciated, unusual behavior “such as disorientation or wandering aimlessly” – all of which progressively get worse and usually end in death.
Ohio officials, who have been trapping and euthanizing the infected raccoons, say diseases like distemper usually stay local and eventually die off naturally. As illustrated in this 2012 video captured in Kalamazoo, Michigan, it's not a pleasant way to go, either.