A pack of raccoons living in Central Park has become an attraction for tourists and other visitors who are charmed by the cute and (seemingly) harmless creatures.
During a recent visit to the park, reporters from the New York Times spotted 22 raccoons clustered near the southeastern edge of the park at 59th Street. The group of raccoons—which, by the way, is called a gaze—was surrounded by tourists and other onlookers who tossed snacks to the animals.
And although feeding raccoons isn't illegal, it's dangerous, even if the creatures appear friendly.
"Do not feed raccoons or any other wildlife you might encounter in parks!" Sarah Aucoin, the Parks Department's chief of education and wildlife told the Times via email. "Animals are best observed from a distance—it keeps both them and you safe."
In 2010, there was a large rabies outbreak among Central Park raccoons. Last year on Staten Island, four cases of rabid raccoons were reported. Although the worst days of the rabies outbreak are behind us, three rabid raccoons have been reported this year, though none were found in Manhattan.
Four years ago, a woman was attacked by two possibly rabid raccoons in Central Park, near the pond at 59th Street—the same place where the gaze can currently be found. Taraka Larson, the woman who was attacked, described the animals as "moving really strangely and having no center of gravity."
"I didn't want to startle them, so I stopped and was looking at them and they saw me and they started coming over to me really slowly, and I just froze," she told Gothamist.
"They kept getting closer, and they were sniffing my shoes, maybe they were smelling my cat, and I thought they would go away," she said. "And then one of them got on top of my shoes and got under the tongue of my shoe, and then wrapped its claws around my leg and started to gnaw on my leg." She was given 15 shots in her ankle to ward off a possible rabies infection.
So maybe don't feed the Central Park raccoons, or any others you might encounter. They're perfectly capable of feeding themselves.