How raccoons are invading parts of Spain and causing havoc

The Local Spain
The Local Spain - [email protected]
How raccoons are invading parts of Spain and causing havoc
Raccoons can carry many diseases and pass them on to humans and pets. Photo: Quentin Bounias / Unsplash

Raccoons may be native to the Americas but in recent years their presence in Spain has increased dramatically to the point that they’re starting to pose a risk to natural ecosystems, agriculture and even people's health.


Yes, raccoons seem cute, furry and cheeky, but they can wreak havoc on a natural environment. 

Raccoons have in fact been in Europe since the 1930s when they were introduced into the wild as a source of fur for the coat-making industry, but the first raccoon sighting wasn’t recorded in Spain until much later in the early 2000s.

The regions of Madrid and Guadalajara in Castilla-La Mancha have been affected most by the raccoon invasion in Spain, but wild raccoons have been seen across the country in Catalonia, Valencia, the Basque Country, Andalusia, Asturias and Galicia.

Even the Balearic and the Canary Islands have recorded sightings.

Spain's raccoon population growth has exploded over the last decade, causing a variety of problems. They're smart, easily adaptable and breed at record speeds.

In the last five years alone, more than 900 have been captured in Madrid, a figure higher than the 814 that were caught between 2007 and 2018 in the Spanish capital.

Some Spaniards try to keep raccoons as pets, even though they cannot be domesticated. When people realise this and get tired of them, they release them into the wild, leading to further proliferation of this invasive species.

According to several reports, this is how mapaches (raccoons in Spanish) came to be in Spain in the first place, when several residents of the Madrid municipality of Rivas Vaciamadrid tried to keep them as pets. It's unclear whether they escaped or were abandoned, but by 2003 raccoon footprints were found in the nearby 

READ ALSO: How a 200-kilo fish is putting Spain's rivers at risk


Threat to Spanish ecosystems

Once outside their native ecosystem, raccoons can cause serious damage to other species. They are opportunistic animals, capable of hunting and preying on nests to eat the eggs.

In the Canary Islands, for example, a single raccoon killed more than 100 Cory's Shearwater chicks – a threatened seabird. They can also cause damage to agriculture.

The Spanish Ministry of the Environment has included raccoons on their list of invasive exotic species requiring urgent eradication.

Raccoons also represent a threat to Spain's agricultural industry. In Madrid, they've destroyed melon, watermelon and other fruit crops and caused damage to irrigation systems, leading farmers to call for regional authorities for them to receive compensation as livestock farmers in the north of the country receive when their livestock is killed by wolves.  



Disease carriers

Raccoons can also transmit various diseases to people, livestock and pets including rabies, distemper, toxoplasmosis and tuberculosis.

The main disease they transmit is baylisascaris, a parasite found in 65 percent of raccoons.

"Children are particularly at risk," Ramón Pérez, responsible for the Species Department of WWF Spain, told La Sexta TV news.

People can become infected by the parasite too by ingesting water or food contaminated by the parasite's eggs. Once hatched, the larvae can migrate to the nervous system or even the eyes.


Capturing raccoons

Experts recommend reporting any sightings of wild raccoons to the authorities so that they can be dealt with accordingly.

Total eradication of raccoons in Spain is difficult, however, due to both their aggressiveness and intelligence.

The most successful way of catching them has been through traps, by laying out foods that they particularly enjoy – sugar, marshmallows and butter being the main three.


One successful example of eradicating raccoons from a particular area took place in Andalusia. "Several were found in the area of Doñana, but the Andalusian Government acted quite quickly with a capture device, and in a short time they captured them all," explained José María Gil, a researcher at the Department of Zoology at the University of Granada (UGR).

In fact, in 2021 Gil himself was able to confirm that there were no raccoons left in Doñana.

However, experts believe that the raccoon problem in Madrid has become so serious now that authorities are not able to eradicate the procyonids completely, managing only to prevent their populations from expanding further. 


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also