What’s Up in the Tree?

On an evening walk with her dog in a leafy northwest Toronto neighbourhood, photographer Eva Marie Baglieri spotted an unusual site high up in a tree, “I saw this white thing in the tree. What is this, I wondered. Then I saw the other raccoons around it.” It was a raccoon with albinism, part of a litter living with its mother in the hollow of a silver maple. She first saw it a week ago. “It’s little and it has been getting better at climbing. It sticks by mama more than the others.”

A raccoon with albinism is rare in nature occurring one in 10,000 births. “We get calls about or admit albino raccoons rarely; perhaps once or twice a decade,” says Nathalie Karvonen, Executive Director of the Toronto Wildlife Centre where 2253 patients of various species have been admitted so far this year.

Albino raccoons are even harder to spot. “You have a one in 750,000 chance of seeing a white raccoon,” Eva Marie adds, “Those are the same odds as being struck by lightning.  My husband was struck by lightning and survived.” Life around Eva Marie beats the odds.

Albinism occurs when mutated genes are inherited from both parents. Raccoons and other animals inherit the same traits of albinism that occur in humans such as the lack of melanin which in a raccoon results in a white colouring, pink eyes and nose, and poor vision. It lacks the protective brown, black, and gray camouflage coat that allows raccoons to go unnoticed, even when they are only a meter away, waiting for you to leave your backyard so they can hang out on your patio furniture. An albino raccoon also lacks the black bandit mask around its eyes, which may help it see better at night. Life is perilous for white raccoons.

As this little guy grips the tree trunk and hangs out with its family, its doting mother and watchful siblings look out for it. “The mama knows it’s a special baby. She snuggles it and is very protective, more than with the others,” Eva Marie noticed. “They’ve been climbing together and now the white raccoon climbs all the way up to the top of the tree which is twice the height of a two-story house.”

The kits are getting more confident and are venturing further out, drawing attention. We’re keeping the location secret in order to give this special raccoon family some breathing space. 

Raccoons with albinism rarely survive to adulthood but we’re hopeful this little one will beat the odds in North America’s raccoon capital. 

by Elizabeth Cinello
Photos by Eva Marie Baglieri

Toronto has the highest densities of raccoons in North America: “Home ranges vary according to food abundance and range from 12 to 6,000 acres. Densities range from 1 to 600 individuals per square mile, with the highest densities occurring in urban areas.”