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A rare furless raccoon is being cared for at a shelter

A rare furless raccoon is being cared for at a shelter

The hairless mammal was named Rufus in honor of the naked mole rat character who appeared on the children's TV show “Kim Possible,” said Hope Swinimer, director of Hope for Wildlife.

Further examination led to the conclusion that Rufus was in fact female, but the name stuck, as the raccoon character proved just as entertaining as the cartoon character of the same name.

A West Arishat couple discovered the three-kilogram female shivering in their backyard last week and brought her to a Cape Breton veterinary clinic, where she was given fluid injections before being sent to the Cape Breton Wildlife Refuge in Seaforth, Nova Scotia.

Swinimer says skin tests determined that Rufus's lack of fur — a condition she calls alopecia — could be a genetic condition and not the result of parasites or other causes.

With good nutrition and good living conditions, Rufus' fur can gradually grow. After that, she will be released into the wild, the sanctuary director hopes.

If that proves impossible, Ms. Swinimer says the shelter could provide Rufus with an enclosed outdoor habitat in his own cabin.

Meanwhile, the raccoon is no longer as depressed as he was when he arrived. The animal shows its dexterity by carefully removing plastic vent covers and darting into the building's ducts.

He added: “We were terrified for a few hours (…) but she felt hungry and came back. The shelter director admitted that she had become very brave and we have seen a great improvement since her arrival.

Swinimer has been caring for injured or sick wildlife for more than 30 years, and says she's seen cases of alopecia in raccoons before, but Rufus is an extreme example.

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In the past, when raccoons lacked hair, they at least had distinct facial patterns around their eyes, but Rufus was bald in that area, she said.

“All he has left are tufts of fur around his muzzle, ankles and feet. This is a serious condition,” Ms Swinimer said.

She said this case highlights the crucial nature of fur and feathers for wild animals.

“If they didn’t have a beautiful fur coat, they wouldn’t be able to survive. If they were in danger, they would succumb to frostbite.”

Many of the animals who have become permanent residents at the shelter, which currently houses 250 people, have benefited from a special habitat created for them.

This meant a 10-metre-long clearing overlooking the ocean for bald eagle Edward, who never regained the ability to fly a short distance after surgery. There is also a visually impaired fox that lives in a small outdoor enclosure.

If Rufus moves in permanently, her outdoor home will consist of trees, mulch and a space where she can crawl and keep warm, Swinimer said.

“There will be fun things you won't find in the wild, like hammocks and nest boxes,” she added.

Ms Swinimer acknowledged that Rufus' case could be a great learning opportunity. For example, if Rufus's fur grows back, it could mean that there is something in the environment causing the loss and it can be investigated.

And for those wondering why her center would help an injured or sick animal that is not an endangered species, the shelter director said her policy is non-discriminatory.

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Most of the animals that come to the shelter have been injured by humans, and the staff provides care whether they are rare species or not.

“We do a lot of damage to our natural world, and it's nice to be able to give back and do whatever we can, no matter what,” Swinimer said.