Escaped 'Raccoon Dogs' Harass English Village. What Are These Things?

The Nottinghamshire police shared this image, apparently of one of the escaped racoon dogs, online. It's amazing.
The Nottinghamshire police shared this image, apparently of one of the escaped racoon dogs, online. It's amazing. (Image credit: Nottinghamshire Police)

A pair of escaped raccoon dogs is stalking the English village of Clarborough, according to the Nottinghamshire police.

"Residents in the Clarborough area near Retford are being warned to be vigilant," the cops said on May 28, "after two captive raccoon dogs escaped their enclosure."

The story of the escaped animals, which Live Science first saw reported on CNN, highlights a bizarre species of animal that most Americans have probably never seen.

Raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides) are distant relatives of dogs, and no more related to raccoons than any other canine. But they do bear similar markings, and they have the ability — a strange one for a canine — to climb trees. [10 Surprising Facts About Dogs]

The critters were originally found in the wild in parts of China, Japan, Mongolia and Russia, and separated from other canids 7 million to 10 million years ago, according to the Canid Specialist Group (CSG), part of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. (For comparison, dogs likely split from wolves just 40,000 years ago.) They've recently spread to much of northern Europe, but not the United Kingdom. Their skulls resemble certain species of South American canids, according to the description, "but genetic studies have revealed that they are not close relatives."

A captive raccoon dog in Germany. (Image credit: Frank Sommariva via Getty Images)

They also look different depending on the time of year.

"In autumn and winter, the raccoon dog is very fat and has thick fur, giving an expression of a round animal with short and thin legs," the CSG says. "In summer when the fur is thin and fat reserves small, the animal looks much slimmer than in autumn."

Their diets vary as much as their appearances, according to the CSG. They chow down just as happily on rodents and frogs as they do on grains and berries. They'll even scamper up trees to munch on fruits.

In very cold areas, raccoon dogs sleep through the winter, and in warmer areas they become "sluggish."

"Raccoon dogs can be seen during daytime in spring,when they are sunbathing on the southern slopes of hills; they sit with their dark chest toward the sun to warm their body and save energy," the description states.

Charmingly, raccoon dogs are "strictly monogamous," according to the CSG.

"Only if one of the pair dies, will the remaining member form a new pair bond with a new mate," the description states.

Live Science wishes this escaped pair the best, but suspects the cops are probably correct in that the residents of Clarborough should give them a wide berth.

Originally published on Live Science.

Rafi Letzter
Staff Writer
Rafi joined Live Science in 2017. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of journalism. You can find his past science reporting at Inverse, Business Insider and Popular Science, and his past photojournalism on the Flash90 wire service and in the pages of The Courier Post of southern New Jersey.