WOODVILLE, Ala. — There are at least two types of Alabamian you don't want to anger. One is a raccoon. The other is a person who rehabilitates raccoons.
The state agency that gives permits to volunteers who help injured and orphaned wildlife sent a letter this month telling 72 groups and individuals to stop rehabilitating certain animals. Instead, the animals should be left to their fate or euthanized. From the state's perspective, the move would help prevent rabies and keep the food chain in balance.
"There is no biological reason to rehabilitate these animals," said Ray Metzler, assistant chief of wildlife for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. "People need to learn to let nature take its course."
On the list were feral pigs, coyotes, bats and foxes — animals that do not often end up in the care of the volunteers. But at the top of the list were raccoons.
Raccoons have never had it easy in Alabama, where a hunting license and a good coon dog are cultural currency in some parts of the state. But wildlife rehabbers love raccoons. They are cuddly and easy to train when they are young.
John Russ, a 65-year-old former Marine, just last week released two raccoons on his 144-acre sanctuary here. He and other rehabbers say the restrictions stem from a conflict between members of one rehabilitation group and local wildlife officials. But they also believe an inherent anti-raccoon bias is at play.
Baby raccoons are often orphaned because trees felled to clear land leave animals homeless or new ribbons of roadways bring more cars, which kill mothers.
"A Ford truck is not nature taking its course," said April Russ, Russ's wife, also a rehabber.
The state's rehabbers have vowed to fight the ban. Pleas for support have been sent to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and to Ellen DeGeneres and Bob Barker, both animal rights activists. Two petitions with at least 28,000 signatures are being prepared for Gov. Robert Bentley.
Metzler insists there is nothing nefarious in the new policy. "The point is we would like for people to leave wildlife alone," he said. "That raccoon that's accustomed to eating out of the dog bowl — it's not going to survive in the wild."