Killer raccoon dogs are set to become Britain’s next foreign animal invaders.
The vicious wolf-related mutts – native to Japan, China and Siberia – have rampaged across Europe.
They are on a list of the most destructive species poised to run riot in the UK by gobbling up native wildlife and spreading deadly parasites.
Dr Stephanie Wray, from The Mammal Society, said: “There are a small number of sightings around Britain each year. Luckily, these have been of single animals but wild animal populations can grow remarkably quickly.
“The raccoon dog is a very adaptable animal which can survive on a wide range of food.
“We need to be mindful of their potential impact and report any such sightings as soon as possible.”
A study funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs identified the tapeworm-infested creatures as the only mammals on a list of 20 invasive species on the verge of becoming established in the UK.
They have been kept in Britain as exotic pets but since 2019 it has been illegal to buy or sell them.
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PA Åhlén of the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management warned: “In an island like the UK you should do anything to keep them out.”
In 2020 a wild raccoon dog was captured and killed in Wales. This year one was sighted in Lincolnshire while another was reportedly stolen from a garden enclosure in Oldham.
The animals have been called the escapologists of the mammal world.
They might look cute, but raccoon dogs are classed as an invasive non-native species (INNS).
This means not only have they been moved from their place of origin and brought to the UK by humans but that they can also have a negative impact on the environment, the economy or public health.
It’s estimated approximately 10-15% of non-native species belong in the INNS category, however the proportion for mammals is much higher and the number of new arrivals is increasing each year.