Police In Northeast Ohio Investigating Reports Of 'Zombie-Like' Raccoons
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
There are five dead raccoons in a Youngstown, Ohio, freezer today, soon to be sent to the Ohio Department of Agriculture for testing. That's because there is something very weird going on with raccoons in Youngstown - almost zombie weird.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
We called Robert Coggeshall, who had a firsthand experience with one of the afflicted raccoons.
ROBERT COGGESHALL: I had my two dogs in the front yard last Friday, a week ago today. And I just noticed this raccoon approaching us. And it's normally unusual to see a raccoon out during the middle of the day. They tend to be nocturnal, so I knew there was something wrong with him.
KELLY: Once they were inside, Coggeshall and his dogs watched through a glass door as this raccoon's behavior got even stranger.
COGGESHALL: He had this characteristic of standing up on his hind feet. He would show his teeth, and then he would just fall over backwards. And then he would be comatose for a matter of, you know, two or three minutes. Then he would come to, walk around a little bit, and then he would do the same thing all over again.
CORNISH: Coggeshall took photos as this happened. He says it went on for two hours. Finally, he called the police. They killed the raccoon and hauled it off to that freezer where others were piling up.
KELLY: Coggeshall posted these photos on social media, and soon the world knew about the freaky Youngstown raccoons, including Erin Bishop, who is the Youngstown health commissioner.
ERIN BISHOP: I saw it on Facebook, saw that it was in The New York Times. So I'm like, oh, wow, you know what I mean? But we hadn't really heard anything.
CORNISH: Now, the health department is all over this. At first, people thought it was rabies. But this afternoon, the United States Department of Agriculture ruled that out. Frankly, that's a relief to residents of Youngstown. Rabies can be passed on to humans; illnesses that cause similar symptoms cannot. The raccoons will be sent to the labs of the Ohio Agriculture Department where they will be tested for other possible culprits.
KELLY: Meanwhile, health commissioner Erin Bishop would like to correct the record on one thing that has been in a lot of the headlines about these raccoons.
BISHOP: You know, when people have been saying these zombie raccoons, I think it's a little odd, do you know what I mean? Because I think it puts a scare in people.
KELLY: So for the record, they are not zombie raccoons - just regular ones that stand on their hind legs, bare their teeth and fall over backwards.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE RACONTEURS SONG, "STEADY AS SHE GOES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.