Midtown New York City has countless tourist attractions. Now, there are about 22 more.
A family of wild raccoons is one of the newest selfie opportunities in Manhattan’s Central Park. An estimated 22 raccoons live in the southern end of the park by “The Pond” and gather food from shutter-happy tourists.
Every evening, the raccoons emerge and prowl the path leading to 59th Street, waiting for visitors to leave them food in exchange for a photo or video.
According to a report from the New York Times, the animals in the park are well-fed. On a recent night, the raccoons were given “organic gummy bears...potato chips; and a piece of a hot dog.” The raccoons are occasionally fed stale bagels from a local bakery.
i almost pet a raccoon in central park today and my brain said "DONT DO IT" but my heart said "NEW FRIEND"— n a o m i (@naomicalhoun) September 28, 2016
Video and photos of tourists feeding the raccoons have started bubbling up on social media as they’re tempted to get closer and closer to the wild animals.
Raccoons are known to live in urban areas, but they were traditionally more likely to be found eating from a garbage can than a tourist’s hand.
“We haven't had an increase in sightings,” Sarah Aucoin, chief of education and wildlife for New York City parks, told New York Daily News earlier this year. “Raccoons become pests when people can't control themselves.”
Although feeding the animals is not illegal, it is not wise. Not only is approaching the (potentially rabid) raccoons dangerous, it can interfere with the “natural” wildlife in the park. Being fed a steady diet of tourists’ leftovers can alter an animal’s natural behavior patterns and eventually put it at greater risk.
“Do not feed raccoons or any wildlife you might encounter in parks,” Aucoin told Travel + Leisure. “Animals are best observed from a distance — it keeps both them and you safe.”
A large rabies outbreak was reported in Central Park’s raccoon population in 2010. This year, three rabid raccoons have been reported in New York City’s outer boroughs (including Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island).
In 2013, a woman Instagramming raccoons in Central Park was bitten by the wild animals and rushed to the hospital, where she was given 15 rabies shots.
The Central Park Conservancy did not immediately respond to request for comment.