Central Park Rabies Outbreak

This month, 23 raccoons in and around Central Park have tested positive for rabies. In addition, 11 animals tested positive during December 2009, bringing the two-month total to 34.

Animal Rabies in Central Park, 12/1/2009-1/29/2010, NYC DOH

In contrast, from 2003-2008, only one raccoon tested positive in Manhattan. In 2008, only 19 animals tested positive for all of New York City.

This increase may be the result of increased surveillance by the Health Department:

With the identification of three raccoons with rabies in Manhattan’s Central Park in recent months – two during the past week – the Health Department is cautioning New Yorkers to stay away from raccoons, skunks, bats, stray dogs and cats and other wild animals that can carry rabies. The recent cluster of findings suggests that rabies is being transmitted among raccoons in the park. The Health Department is increasing surveillance efforts to determine the extent of the problem.
– Press Release, 2009-12-07

Historically, raccoons are by far the most commonly reported animal, comprising about 3/4 of reports from 1992-2008. Raccoons are nocturnal, and should be active only at night. Anyone observing a raccoon active during the daytime, or any animal that appears disoriented, placid, or aggressive, should call 311 immediately to report the location. Animal attacks should be reported to 911.

Related Content

Rabies reminder from NYC DOH, 2009-07-21
Rabies in NYC: Facts and Figures, 2008-07-08
Meta: Rabies More Popular Than Sex, 2007-03-07
News: Raccoon Tests Positive for Rabies in Manhattan, 2007-02-28


Animals Testing Positive for Rabies in New York City in 2010, year to date
Health Department Cautions New Yorkers to Avoid Wild Animals and Vaccinate Pets against Rabies, NYC DOH Pres Release, 2009-12-07
Rabies, Communicable Diseases, NYC DOH

Rabies reminder from NYC DOH

Not to fan the annual flames of rabies hysteria we usually get in the Brooklyn blogosphere, but the New York City Department of Health, in response to recent identification of rabid animals in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens, issued a press release today to remind New Yorkers to 1) avoid contact with wild animals, and 2) have your pets vaccinated for rabies. Note that NYC law requires rabies vaccinations of pets.

Six rabid animals — all raccoons — have been identified in New York City this year. Four were found in the Bronx, one in Manhattan (near Inwood Hill Park), and one in Queens (Long Island City). Raccoons are the most commonly reported rabid animals in New York City. Rabid raccoons are a relatively common occurrence in Staten Island and the Bronx, but rare in Queens and Manhattan. Bats with rabies have also been found in all five boroughs.

People and unvaccinated animals can get rabies, most often through a bite from an infected animal. Infection leads to a severe brain disease that causes death unless the person is treated promptly after being bitten. To reduce the risk of rabies, New Yorkers should avoid all wild animals, as well as any animal that seems sick, disoriented or unusually placid or aggressive. Report such animals by calling 311. Animals that have attacked or may attack should be reported to 911.

The six reported animals lags far behind the 19 reports for 2008. In recent history, Staten Island has the highest incidence of rabies among wild animals, followed closely by the Bronx. Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn lag far behind. See Rabies in NYC: Facts and Figures for more info.

To protect yourself against rabies

  • Do not touch or feed wild animals, or stray dogs or cats.
  • Keep garbage in tightly sealed containers.
  • Stay away from any animal that is behaving aggressively or a wild animal that appears ill or is acting unusually friendly. Call 311 or your local precinct to report the animal.
  • If you find a bat indoors that may have had contact with someone, do not release it before calling 311 to determine whether it should be tested. For information on how to safely capture a bat, visit http://www.health.state.ny.us/diseases/communicable/zoonoses/rabies/.

To protect your pet against rabies

  • Make sure your dog or cat is up-to-date on rabies vaccinations.
  • Do not leave your pets outdoors unattended.
  • Do not try to separate animals that are fighting.
  • If your pet has been in contact with an animal that might be rabid, contact your veterinarian, and report the incident to 311.
  • Feed pets indoors.

If you are bitten by an animal

  • Immediately wash the wound with lots of soap and water.
  • Seek medical care from your health care provider.
  • If you know where the animal is, call 311 to have it captured.
  • If the animal is a pet, get the owner’s name, address and telephone number to give to the Health Department so they can ensure the animal is not rabid.
  • Call the Animal Bite Unit (212-676-2483) between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or file a report online at www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/vet/vetegp.shtml.
  • For information about medical follow-up, call 311 or your medical provider.


Related Content

Rabies in NYC: Facts and Figures, 2008-07-08
Meta: Rabies More Popular Than Sex, 2007-03-07
News: Raccoon Tests Positive for Rabies in Manhattan, 2007-02-28


Press Release

Rabies in NYC: Facts and Figures

With all of the recent interest in raccoons and other wildlife, rabies is frequently raised as a concern. The New York City Department of Health has information on rabies on its Web site. Anyone concerned about the risk of exposure to rabies from interactions with wildlife in NYC should review the DOH information, which I’ll summarize here:

  • There have been no human cases of rabies in New York City for more than 50 years. In all of New York State, there have only been 14 cases since 1925.
  • Staten Island, with 29 rabid animals reported last year, and 35 in 2006, has a greater incidence of rabid animals than the rest of the city combined. The risk there is serious enough that DOH has issued a Rabies Alert [PDF, English/Español] for Staten Island.
  • The Bronx, with 14 reports last year and only 6 the year before, has less than half the incidence of Staten Island.
  • Brooklyn has had only 5 rabid animal reports in the past 15 years, and only 1 in the past 5.
  • Although city-wide, raccoons are the most frequently reported rabid animal, in Brooklyn no raccoons have been reported in the past 15 years.

So, although caution is always wise, there’s no need to fear these animals. Except for Staten Island, the risk of exposure is extremely low. Spending time outside in New York City, you’re more at risk from West Nile Virus than rabies.

What is rabies?


Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals (including humans) most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The rabies virus infects the central nervous system. Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. The vast majority of rabies cases in the United States each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Animal rabies is reported annually in New York City and State, primarily in bats, skunks and raccoons. New York City first saw rabies in animals starting in 1992, and continues to every year, especially among animals in the Bronx.

In the United States, rabies rarely infects humans because of companion animal vaccination programs and the availability of human rabies vaccine. There have been no human cases of rabies in New York City for more than 50 years. New York State has reported 14 human cases since 1925.

Human rabies vaccine, if administered promptly and as recommended, can prevent infection after a person has been bitten or otherwise exposed to an animal with rabies. The human rabies vaccine is given in a series of five vaccinations along with one initial dose of rabies immune globulin (RIG). The one time dose of RIG and five vaccines administered over the course of one month is referred to as post exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

What Can People Do To Protect Themselves Against Rabies?

(New York State Department of Health)

Don’t feed, touch or adopt wild animals, stray dogs or cats.

Be sure your dogs, cats and ferrets are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations. [Note: This is the law in New York City.] Vaccinated pets serve as a buffer between rabid wildlife and man. Protect them, and you may reduce your risk of exposure to rabies. Vaccines for dogs, cats and ferrets after three months of age are effective for a one-year period. Revaccinations are effective for up to three years. Pets too young to be vaccinated should be kept indoors. Some new vaccines have now been licensed, and therefore, can be used for younger animals.

Don’t try to separate two fighting animals. Wear gloves if you handle your pet after a fight.

Keep family pets indoors at night. Don’t leave them outside unattended or let them roam free.

Don’t attract wild animals to your home or yard. Keep your property free of stored bird seed or other foods that may attract wild animals. Feed pets indoors. Tightly cap or put away garbage cans. [And your compost bins containing food waste or scraps.] Board up any openings to your attic, basement, porch or garage. Cap your chimney with screens.

Bats can be particularly difficult to keep out of buildings because they can get through cracks as small as a pencil. Methods to keep bats out (batproofing) of homes and summer camps should be done during the fall and winter. If bats are already inside (e.g., in an attic or other areas), consult with your local health department about humane ways to remove them.

Encourage children to immediately tell an adult if they are bitten by any animal. Tell children not to touch any animal they do not know.

If a wild animal is on your property, let it wander away. Bring children and pets indoors and alert neighbors who are outside. You may contact a nuisance wildlife control officer who will remove the animal for a fee.

Report all animal bites or contact with wild animals to your local health department. Don’t let any animal escape that has possibly exposed someone to rabies. Depending on the species, it can be observed or tested for rabies in order to avoid the need for rabies treatment. This includes bats with skin contact or found in a room with a sleeping person, unattended child, or someone with mental impairment. Bats have small, sharp teeth and in certain circumstances people can be bitten and not know it.


NYC Department of Health: Rabies (Hydrophobia)
New York State Department of Health: Rabies

Brooklyn’s Raccoons in the New York Times

Update 2010.01.03: Removed all links to the old Gowanus Lounge domain, which has since been appropriated by some parasitic commercial site.

Flatbush Raccoon, June 26, 2008
Flatbush Raccoon

Last week, I was interviewed by reporter Ann Farmer for the New York Times about my experiences with raccoons. The article is published in today’s Times:

Raccoons have long been widespread in New York City, and there is no way to say with any statistical certainty whether there are more now. But Capt. Richard Simon of the Urban Park Rangers, which is part of the city’s Parks Department, said a rise in the number of 311 callers reporting sightings, encounters or interactions suggests that “the citywide population of raccoons has increased.”

One thing seems clear. In the leafy neighborhoods surrounding Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery, residents have been flooding the Internet with raccoon stories.
The City’s Latest Real Estate Fight: Humans Against Raccoons, Ann Farmer, New York Times, July 8, 2008

That pesky Internet! Ms. Farmer cites the Brooklyn blogosphere as one source for the reports:

Chris Kreussling, a computer programmer who lives just south of Prospect Park in Flatbush, posted pictures on his Flatbush Gardener blog recently of several raccoons in his backyard. It elicited a quick round of similar testimonies.

Another Brooklyn blog, the Gowanus Lounge, chronicled multiple raccoon sightings in recent days (link defunct) in Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Windsor Terrace and Red Hook.

When contacted, many bloggers recalled raccoons rooting around in gardens and compost piles, traipsing into children’s wading pools and sometimes rearing up on their hind legs when startled. Many expressed awe at seeing the nocturnal mammals so close.

“People need access to wildlife in urban areas,” Mr. Kreussling said. “I consider it a bonus.”

That last quote is a reference to biophilia, literally “love of life or living systems.” I think the way I expressed it in the interview was something like: People need nature around them.

Ms. Farmer also interviewed several of my neighbors. Check out Nelson Ryland’s cautionary tale of the hazards of cat doors!

Thanks to my neighbor Brenda of Crazy Stable and Prospect: A Year in the Park for putting Ms. Farmer on the trail!

Related Posts

Rabies in NYC: Facts and Figures
Summer Nights, June 26, 2008


The City’s Latest Real Estate Fight: Humans Against Raccoons, Ann Farmer, New York Times, July 8, 2008

Summer Nights

Update 2010.01.03: Corrected all links to the old Gowanus Lounge domain to the new memorial domain.

Flatbush Raccoon

I know it’s summer when the fireflies are out in force. As are the raccoons (Procyon lotor).

Both made their first appearance in the backyard about two weeks ago: just two fireflies, and just one raccoon. Tonight, multiple fireflies in everyone’s yards, front and back. And a family of raccoons, as we get every year. I saw three little ones at once. I saw the adult separately.

Here are, I think, two of the young’uns, one in a tree, and one on the ground. It could also be the same young raccoon. The one in the tree climbed down, shortly after which the “other” appeared on the ground.

Flatbush RaccoonFlatbush Raccoon

The groundling was very curious about my camera, and came within four feet of me before it realized the camera was attached to a person.

Flatbush Raccoon

Gowanus Lounge recently reported on raccoons sighted in Carroll Gardens. Some folks raised concerns about rabies. I left the following comment:

We love our Brooklyn raccoons!

They are annual visitors to our backyard. And our kitchen on the second floor. They climbed my neighbor’s apple tree to get there. They don’t scale building walls, they climb trees and other structures.

They’re scavengers, looking for easy grub. Don’t leave pet food outside. Don’t feed stray and feral cats and dogs. Keep garbage cans and compost bins and piles covered.

As for rabies, Brooklyn is the best off of all the five boroughs, with only 5 animal cases detected in the past 15 years; the most recent, in 2005, was a bat. Rabies is endemic in the Bronx and Staten Island.

Related Posts


Old news

Raccoon Fight

I just heard a raccoon fight in my backyard. It’s the first time I’ve seen a raccoon here in the winter.

I didn’t know it was a raccoon fight at first. When I heard the ruckus, I looked out from the second floor porch, but couldn’t see anything. I went downstairs with a flashlight and looked out from one of the back bedrooms. I saw what I thought was a cat hiding behind one of the Adirondack chairs.

I went back upstairs to the back porch. Then I heard the screeching and screaming again. Decidedly un-catlike. I could tell it was coming from the corner of the yard, but I couldn’t see anything. I thought it might be just beyond one of our neighbors’ fences.

Then I saw it, lumbering into view. One of the big mama-jama raccoons. Unhurried and unconcerned. Probably the winner of whatever altercation had just ensued. In the beam of my flashlight, it turned to look up at me, then stood on its back legs to get a better look. Satisfied, I guess, it went under my back neighbor’s deck.

It was all over in less than five minutes, so no photos from tonight’s squabble. You can find photos in my related posts.

Related Posts

Flatbush Wildlife Report: Raccoons and Opposums, July 9, 2007
Midnight Photo Blogging: Raccoons in Brooklyn, July 31, 2006

Flatbush Wildlife Report: Raccoons and Opposums

Virginia Opposum, Didelphis Virginiana, in my backyard in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Virginia Opposum, Didelphis Virginiana, Flatbush, Brooklyn

This evening my tenants saw five raccoons, Procyon lotor, and two opposums, Didelphis virginiana, in our backyard.

By the time I got downstairs and into the backyard, they were all gone. We did manage to lure an opposum into the open with some fish. I got the one good photo above.

I didn’t get to see the other opposum, which was larger and all white rather than marbled as the one above. I believe the white one was the mother, and this was one of the young.

The raccoons were four smaller and one large. Again, seems like a mother and pups.

Last year’s raccoons first appeared in late July, early August, so they’re about three weeks early this year. Last year’s sightings also occurred during a series of warm nights; it’s been in the 90s during the day and only down to the upper 70s at night the past two days.


Related Content

Midnight Photo Blogging: Raccoons in Flatbush, July 2006


Opposum Society of the United States

News: Raccoon Tests Positive for Rabies in Manhattan

The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced today that a raccoon has tested positive for rabies in Manhattan. Rabies is prevalent in Staten Island. it seems just a matter of time before it’s detected in Brooklyn.

A raccoon dropped off by two New Yorkers at the Manhattan Animal Care and Control Shelter tested positive for rabies yesterday, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported today. The Health Department is trying to identify these individuals, who may have been exposed to rabies while handling the animal. Rabies is a fatal disease, but it can be prevented if exposed individuals get rabies shots. There has not been a case of human rabies in New York City for more than 50 years.

The individuals brought the injured raccoon, wrapped in a blanket and placed in a pet carrier, to the East 110th Street shelter on the evening of Friday, February 23rd. They were described as a white man and woman in their thirties wearing medical scrubs. They left before giving any contact information to the shelter staff. [Okay, so how do you know they were New Yorkers as you state in the first paragraph?!] These people should seek medical care immediately and call 311 to notify the Health Department. The Health Department is also alerting City doctors and veterinarians of the possible exposure.

It is not known if this raccoon was living in Manhattan, which has had very few cases of rabid animals compared to Staten Island and the Bronx. It may have been transported from another borough. This raccoon is the first animal that has tested positive in Manhattan in 2007; one bat tested positive in 2006. DOHMH warns New Yorkers to avoid contact with stray cats and dogs or other potentially rabid animals such as raccoons, skunks, or opossums and to ensure that their pets’ rabies vaccinations are kept up to date.

To protect yourself against rabies:

Rabies is most often transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected animal or when saliva of the infected animal comes into contact with an open wound or mucous membrane (such as nose or mouth). Simple contact with a wild animal will not result in rabies.

  • Do not touch or feed wild animals, stray dogs or cats, or bats.
  • Keep garbage in tightly sealed containers.
  • Stay away from any animal that is displaying unusual behavior or appears ill, particularly if the animal is behaving aggressively or if a wild animal acts unusually friendly. Call 311 to report animals that are displaying these or other unusual behaviors.

To protect your pet against rabies:

  • Make sure your dog or cat is up-to-date on its rabies vaccinations.
  • Do not leave your pets outdoors unattended.
  • If your pet has been in contact with an animal that might be rabid, contact your veterinarian.
  • Feed pets indoors.

If you are bitten by an animal:

  • First, wash the wound with soap and water IMMEDIATELY.
  • Talk to a doctor right away to see if you need tetanus or rabies shots. If you don’t have a regular doctor, go to a hospital emergency room.
  • Call 311 to report the bite.

Related Content

Raccoons in Brooklyn, 2006-07-31


Press Release

Midnight Photo Blogging: Raccoons in Brooklyn

Oh, yeah. They’re here.

I happened to go into the kitchen and heard noise out in the garden. I went out into the tree fort and heard lots of rustling around, sounding like it was along the back fence. I went back inside and got a flashlight to shine down in the yard.

The first one I saw running along the bottom of the reed screen I put up along the back fence. It was so fast, it could have been a cat. I kept hearing noise, so I kept looking. That’s when I saw something on the reed screen. With the flashlight, it was clearly a small raccoon.

Now I know why my screen keeps falling down. It’s a raccoon ride.

By this time a light was on from our tenants downstairs, and I saw a flash of light from a camera. Grabbed my camera, keys, flashlight and went outside to the backyard. One of our tenants was in the backyard with a camera, and I joined in, using the flashlight to spot them – in the trees, along the phone lines, behind the fence – and take pictures. I only have the flash in my camera, which isn’t very powerful. The shot above is the only one in which I got all three of them. [2006.07.31-16:28 EDT: Replaced with photo adjused for brightness.]

They’re clearly young, they seem well-fed, and they were having a lot of fun with each other. They didn’t seem interested in my compost bins at all. They did seem to like rustling around in the leaves. I know there’s lots of earthworms in there, and probably other good eats. Gnawing on phone junction boxes also seems to be a pastime, not one of which I approve.

They were back the following night. There were three, again, but one of them seemed larger than the other two and stayed on the ground. The three photographed above were all about the same size, and all up and down the threes, along, behind, and on the fence and screen, and so on. That time my partner got to see them, which was great fun.

It’s been too hot since then to keep a raccoon vigil.

Related posts


Wildlife sighting: Raccoons in Brooklyn.

Sorry, no pics. I did not see them. But our tenants, while eating dinner in the backyard last night, saw two raccoons, which came within about six feet of them. From their description, they sound like juveniles.

To set the stage, here’s a photo of the backyard:

The tenants were seated in the Adirondack chairs. The raccoons were at the log in the foreground.

Melanie, a next-door neighbor, has been vindicated. Several months ago, I saw an opposum in our backyard. Right out the back window, nosing around the leaf litter and bags of mulch. And all the neighbors said “Oh, yeah, we’ve see the opposum.” Like there would only ever be one. Where there is one opposum, there be much opposa. In that conversation, Melanie said that she’d seen a raccoon in her backyard. At which the neighbors scoffed “Maybe it was a cat.” For none but Melanie had seen a raccoon.

Until last night.

Note the compost bin in the photo above. There is another directly behind where the photographer is standing, against the garage. I think this is what is attracting the raccoons. The tenants were very excited about being able to compost their kitchen scraps, and I’ve encouraged this. I’ve let them know what not to compost (meat, bones, fats or oils) and what to compost (vegetable, fruit, coffee grounds, eggshells, and so on). But the bins do not have secure lids; I sometimes even leave them unlidded if they’re dried out.

I’ve never had to contend with raccoons in 25 years of urban gardening. We live one block from Coney Island Avenue: a seven-lane thoroughfare lined, at our latitude, with auto shops, car washes, gas stations, row houses, and Pakistani restaurants. Granted, we also only live four or five blocks from Prospect Park. But raccoons?!

Is this a problem for you suburban and exurban composters? Should I do anything? What do you do?

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