If you’re a lover of animals, you’ve probably heard the story of Mark “Coon Rippy” Brown of Gallatin, Tennessee. Mr. Brown describes himself as a wildlife rescuer, and his videos of him with former raccoon pal Gunshow and more recent raccoon pal Rebekah made him an internet sensation. He was lined up to star in a reality show with Gunshow just before the animal’s death.
But Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency agents confiscated Rebekah two weeks ago, because it’s against the law to possess wild animals in the state without a special permit, and Mr. Brown doesn’t have one.
Mr. Brown says he rescued Rebekah and has cared for her, and he wants her back. He’s launched a social media campaign, complete with Facebook page and numerous TV and radio interviews. Many people have signed on in support of his efforts.
But I say Rebekah should not be returned to him.
Wild animals are not pets and should not be treated as such. It’s against the law to own wild animals for a reason, and when people decide they are above the law and bring these animals into their homes, they put the animal, their neighbors, and themselves at risk of disease, property damage, and attack.
Wild animals survive by instinct, and even though a young animal may be docile and compliant, that animal’s temperament will most likely change once he or she reaches puberty. What happens to the animal then? There are almost no rehabilitation programs that will take the animal in, and it cannot be returned to the wild, so it will either live its life in a cage or it will have to be euthanized.
Did you know it’s illegal in some states (and not recommended in any) to feed wildlife? You do those animals no favors when you leave out food for them. The food is not formulated for their unique dietary needs, so they can become ill. The animals become accustomed to being around humans, and can harass neighbors and harm pets.
Even feeding birds and squirrels can draw mice, rats, and larger animals that prey on the ones you’re feeding. A sick animal can easily spread disease to other animals at communal feeding sites. If you do feed birds and squirrels, it’s recommended you only do so in winter.
If you see a wild animal that you think is orphaned, don’t be so quick to move. Sometimes the parent is really nearby and waiting for you to leave. If you know the animal is truly orphaned, you should contact your wildlife agency and follow their directives, even if they tell you to leave the animal to let nature take its course.
For now, Rebekah is being rehabilitated at Walden’s Puddle, a wildlife rehabilitation center in Joelton, Tennessee. If she remains there, she will learn how to be a raccoon and may eventually be able to be released into the wild.
If she’s returned to Mr. Brown, she will be exploited to make Mr. Brown famous on YouTube and on television.
Which do you think is the better choice for her?