June 2, Wooster Ohio—the time and place that Dominyk Lever may have captured on camera one of the cutest raccoon interactions ever recorded.
While fishing for rainbow trout in the town's Apple Creek, Lever, traveling in the U.S. from Australia, heard small chirping sounds.
"It was the middle of the day and [I] looked down at my feet to see the three raccoons approaching me and clamoring to climb up my legs, which I let them do," said Lever in an email.
ADORABLE RACCOON BABIES MAKE HUMAN FRIEND
He said they then proceeded to climb over his shoulders and lick his ears, leading Lever to believe they had possibly lost their mother. Another fisherman soon stumbled upon the frolicking foursome and fed the baby raccoons a dead fish he had found.
Two days later, Lever returned to the creek and learned that the man who fed them a fish had built a shelter for the raccoons after realising they had lost their mother and was checking on them daily.
"I've communicated with him since, and he tells me they are doing well and getting more independent by the day and spending less time around people, which is a good sign," said Lever.
Raccoons can be found throughout Ohio and much of North America, living anywhere from urban to rural areas. While those that frequent suburbs or parks tend to be more comfortable with people, it's not often that they're seen clamouring to climb on their human neighbours.
"Their behaviour, once they're on the guy, is pretty normal, but that they're there is odd," said Suzanne MacDonald, a professor at York University and National Geographic explorer who studies raccoon behaviour. One guess she has for why the raccoons were so drawn to the man?
"I mean, his face looks very 'raccoon-y,'" she offered, laughing.
"They've evolved that masked face for a reason, to identify each other. That guy looks big and kind of furry and probably has fish," said MacDonald.
Their behaviour, MacDonald said, indicates they're likely orphans, saying without their mother, "they will adopt anybody. They love climbing on people."
TIL: THERE’S PROBABLY A RACCOON LIVING ON YOUR BLOCK
While young raccoons typically stay with their mothers through the summer, MacDonald noted that the trio had likely weaned and could, therefore, survive on their own.
While these three raccoons may look like an appealing companion, MacDonald cautions that they should never be taken into a home as a pet.
"Once they are out of that baby stage, they will destroy your house."
She advises instead that for anyone who thinks they may have found an orphaned raccoon, build a shelter, and check on it over a few days. Only once it can be certain that the mother is not in the vicinity should the youngsters be taken to a wildlife centre.
Raccoon mothers will diligently search for offspring that have fallen from a nest or wandered off.
Remember that raccoons can be vectors for rabies and other disease, so always use caution.