Imagine being outside with your pet beagles and enjoying the day when suddenly you spot a raccoon. Apart from the fact that it is extremely unlikely of them to be seen out in the day, the raccoon also happens to fearlessly walk up to your house once you've walked back in and engages in a stare-off with your pets. Creepy, right?
The same happened with 72-year-old Robert Coggeshall at his Youngstown, Ohio residence, sometime around Friday afternoon, reported Washington Post. He assumed something was wrong with the raccoon – something that was confirmed by what happened next.
As Coggeshall left his garage to shoo the animal away, it stood up on its hind feet and flashed its sharp teeth and gums at him, with saliva dripping from its mouth. But the strangeness wasn't over here.
Suddenly the raccoon collapsed into a coma-like state, from which it woke up soon, walked around in a lethargic manner for a bit, before finally getting up on its hind feet again.
Coggeshall, who's a wildlife photographer and naturalist, watched the raccoon repeatedly perform the bizarre pattern over and over again, for about two hours – during which time he himself took about 250 photos of it.
But this raccoon isn't the only one with such odd traits, share the Youngstown police. Another dozen cases of such strange raccoon behavior have been reported by the residents of the area, as WKBN-TV reported. These raccoons are uncharacteristically out in broad daylight and roaming around, unafraid of loud noises or motions as they normally would be.
This abnormal behavior has prompted the residents to even call them 'zombie raccoons', as multiple news outlets reported. But solving the mystery of what might have caused this drastic change in their behavior, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said they are most likely infected with a disease called 'distemper', reported WKBN-TV.
The disease is viral and sometimes fatal, and typically infects unvaccinated dogs, but can also affect foxes, coyotes, and skunks. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, it does not infect humans though.
The effects of the disease involve brain damage, which is what's probably happened with the raccoons. Respiratory disease, seizures, immobility, and death are also common effects, according to National Geographic.
Coming into contact with bodily fluids or droppings of infected animals causes the spread of distemper. It's not quite the same as rabies, but certain symptoms are similar.
"Raccoons are really prone to getting diseases that even among themselves can be devastating to the population," said Geoff Westerfield, a wildlife biologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife, in an interview with WKBN-TV. He says the disease is local and eventually dies off, provided the animals are trapped.
WKBN-TV also reported that 14 such infected raccoons, other than the one reported by Coggeshell have been put down in the Youngstown area. "I hate to see an animal suffer. I really do," Coggeshall shared with the Washington Post. "It really bothers me to see them put down like that. But something had to be done."