Masked marauders moved from City Park to a new home out west,

By Steve Ritea, Times Picayune.

The battle for day-old bread and leftover popcorn still rages in the grass and along the walkways in City Park, but now the pigeons and squirrels have considerably less competition.

As of Friday, about 50 raccoons that had congregated near the park's haunted house, attracting carloads of gawkers and raising fears of rabies, had been relocated by a local trapper to St. Charles Parish.

"We think we've humanely and sensibly dealt with the situation over there," said Bob Becker, City Park's CEO. "The balance of nature was being disturbed by what was happening."

Becker said there are still some raccoons in the park, but the population hit an unmanageable level last month when, park officials believe, local residents began dropping off raccoons they had either caught in their neighborhood or tried to keep as pets.

State officials have blamed the increase in raccoons on urban sprawl that is destroying the animals' habitats. That can be a problem, they said because raccoons can carry a host of diseases.

Becker said people who dropped the raccoons off, and others who fed them, were responsible for the problem at City Park. "They're wild animals. They should be left to do what wild animals do, and the more people try to domesticate them by hand-feeding, it just creates a problem," he said. "A raccoon can be a very aggressive animal."

Becker said he knew of at least one resident who contacted park officials to say he was bitten by a raccoon but no one filed an official complaint.

Late last month, park officials approved spending about $2,000 to hire local trapper John Schmidt, who spent about 10 days setting up cages baited with food. Schmidt, a state-approved trapper, had caught about 50 raccoons by Friday, when his work ended, Becker said.

An estimated 20,000 to 40,000 people are exposed to rabies each year in the United States, according to the National Center for Infectious Diseases, and the public health cost associated with rabies prevention and treatment is about $300 million each year.