DNR: Never keep wildlife as pets

Photo by Julie Tew

Photo by Julie Tew

COVINGTON -- While law enforcement unravels the mystery of how a baby could be attacked inside her home by raccoons, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources reminds residents that it is against the law in Georgia to keep any native wildlife species as a pet.

To do so is to invite disaster, warned DNR Senior Wildlife Biologist Don McGowan.

"Any wildlife species is going to retain some of that wildness no matter how long they've been associated with people. There's always that potential they could strike out. You just never know when ... ," McGowan said.

He said there are strict licensing requirements even for wildlife education facilities or permitted wildlife rehabilitators for keeping raccoons in captivity.

"There are a lot of stringent qualifications and it's not easy to get a permit from the state to have a raccoon or any of the rabies vector species," he said, adding that raccoons are prone to have rabies. "You always treat them as if they have rabies until you know differently. In wildlife in the Southeast, they are the most prone to be rabid and are certainly highly suspect when they bite a person."

The biologist said a raccoon is capable of inflicting severe damage with its teeth.

"They're strong animals and have canine teeth. They can leave a nasty bite without rabies," he said.

McGowan said raccoons are considered omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal material.

"This time of the year they're eating persimmons, acorns, and, of course, if there's frogs, crayfish or field mice; they'll take advantage of that. They'll also eat garbage and pet food," he said. "This time of the year, especially with the acorn drop, they usually have a pretty decent food supply."

McGowan reiterated to the public that not only is it against the law to keep wild animals as pets, it is dangerous.

"For safety reasons, people absolutely should not keep a wildlife species as a pet. It always has that wildness in it," he warned.