The new mother probably wandered away for just a few minutes, but she never returned to the spot where she left her two infant raccoons. Without intervention, the little ones, whose eyes were still closed, would probably have perished in the cold, damp Baylands air or been attacked by predators.
Fortunately, Palo Alto's Environmental Volunteers were there to help.
In May a hiker knocked on the door of the new EcoCenter at the Palo Alto Baylands to report the weeks-old babies were wandering alone in a parking lot. Environmental Volunteers is a nonprofit organization that provides hands-on environmental-education programs for local children.
Brittany Sabol, education and training director who is trained in wildlife rescue, checked on the situation to determine if the youngsters actually needed help.
"It is fairly common to see a juvenile animal without its parent. This does not mean that the baby has been abandoned; the parent could be off foraging for food, moving siblings one at a time to a new den, or hiding in the nearby bushes waiting for you to leave. I recently learned that juvenile raccoons will even leave the den to go play during the day while mom is asleep," she said.
But the babies were not old enough to wander on their own, and both appeared to be getting weak. One was crawling desperately across the parking lot, she said. Hunger drove the raccoons to leave the den and search for help, Sabol said.
While waiting for Palo Alto Animal Services to arrive, Environmental Volunteers looked after the tiny creatures. Without touching the raccoons, the volunteers kept predators at bay. By casting their shadows over the raccoons, the babies stopped crawling around, Sabol said.
The raccoons were taken to Wildlife Rescue where they received fluids. They will be cared for by staff there and likely will be released back to the wild when they are old enough, she said.
Raccoons commonly carry rabies, although there are few cases in California. But Sabol said it is always best to let professionals handle raccoons, as the creatures are feisty at any age and will defend themselves by fierce growling, biting and scratching.
If it is necessary to pick up an injured or orphaned raccoon, one should wear thick work gloves and use thick towels. The animal should be put in a secure box or cage and should be kept in a warm, dark, quiet place. The raccoon should not be fed, but should be offered a bowl of fresh water. It should be transported to a proper rehabilitation clinic as soon as possible, she said.
Rehabilitation services on the Peninsula include:
Palo Alto Animal Services: 650-496-5971
Wildlife Rescue (Palo Alto -- Closed winters): 650-494-7283
Peninsula Humane Society (Burlingame): 650-340-7022
Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley (San Jose): 408-929-9453