Sweden is bracing for an amphibious assault by a considerable force of raccoon dogs and raccoons, poised to cross the Öresund strait which separates the country from neighbouring Denmark.
Raccoon dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides) are native to east Asia, where their populations are actually declining, but they have made themselves right at home across Scandinavia and continental Europe. Raccoons (Procyon lotor) are native to North America.
The raccoon dog was introduced into Latvia in the 1940s, and rapidly invaded neighbouring countries, penetrating as far south as Italy.
Two breeding pairs of raccoons were released outside Kassel, Germany, in 1934, with the authorisation of Hermann Göring's Reich Forestry Office, with spectacular results. The country now hosts a population of up a million, and another release from an US airbase in France in the 1960s gave the animals another vital base of operations.
Denmark has already fallen to both species, and the Swedes now fear they will make the short 4km swim across the Öresund straight to Skåne to conquer yet more territory. Bertil Nilsson, wildlife officer at Skåne’s County Administrative Board, told Sveriges Radio: "They're good swimmers. And besides, they could also use the bridge as a possible crossing. But neither the open sea nor high waves are going to scare them off."
He chillingly added: "It's really very serious, they're spreading very quickly in Denmark."
That Sweden will fall to the raccoon dog and raccoon seems inevitable. The former is already menacing the country from Finland, where a substantial population has made short work of indigenous wildlife. Nilsson explained: "In Finland the large wetlands areas are all but emptied of ground-nesting birds and frogs."
A monitoring camera operation along the Sweden-Finland border has now been extended to Öresund, in the hope of stemming the tide. Nilsson concluded: "There's nothing wrong with the species. We just don't want them here." ®
UK tabloid The Sun reported on the raccoon threat to Europe back in 2004, illustrating its "furry blitzkrieg" warning with a rather splendid photo, as you can see here.