A 70’s cartoon inspired Japanese to adopt baby raccoons as pets. As a result, Japan imported thousands of raccoons from America. Seeing how violent they could be, families released them into forests following one scene in the cartoon. Raccoons multiplied – damaged 80% of Japan’s temples
Raccoons, which are not indigenous to Japan, have damaged more than 80% of Japanese temples. The forested areas of Japan are currently overrun with raccoons and, as a result, Japanese authorities have adopted a “zero tolerance” policy, killing over 10,000 raccoons each year in efforts to reduce raccoon populations and minimize damage to temples, shrines, and native wildlife.
Japan is not the only country with raccoon problems. In the early 1930s, a few raccoons were released in the German countryside outside Berlin to amuse hunters and, in 1945, about two dozen raccoons escaped from a local fur farm. Since that time, the raccoon population has multiplied and now Germany has approximately 1 million raccoons, the largest raccoon population outside of North America. Kassel, in Central Germany, has the largest raccoon population in Europe, with up to 100 raccoons per square kilometer. German authorities have tried different strategies to deal with the raccoon problem, including killing raccoons and creating drainpipe protectors to prevent raccoons from climbing up them and causing damage to homes. Germany and Japan are still trying to find the best ways to deal with their raccoon problems.
Although raccoons are not native to Japan, the cartoon Rascal the Raccoon, which aired in Japan in the 1970s, inspired individuals to adopt baby raccoons as pets and, as a result, Japan imported thousands of raccoons from North America. After keeping raccoons in their homes and seeing how violent and destructive they could be, thousands of families got rid of them by releasing them into the forested areas of Japan, as was shown in one of the scenes in the cartoon.
Other TV shows and movies featuring animals have similarly inspired people to adopt pets and then, after realizing that the animals weren’t as cute and cuddly as in the program, get rid of them. This trend is often referred to as the “101 Dalmatians Syndrome” (or “101 Dalmatians Effect”) since thousands of families adopted Dalmatian puppies after the release of the popular movie “101 Dalmatians,” and then, after finding they were difficult to take care of, brought them to animal shelters and/or abandoned them. Within a year of the 1996 release of that movie, there was a 25% increase in Dalmatians at shelters and rescue organizations. Movies such as Legally Blonde and Beverly Hills Chihuahua, as well as Taco Bell commercials featuring a talking Chihuahua, led to increased popularity of Chihuahuas, and Along Came Polly led to increased interest in ferrets.
In recent years, in order to prevent people from running out to adopt a species featured in a show, media and animal rights organizations have distributed information about animals and encouraged families to conduct research before selecting a pet. For example, for the 2000 release of 102 Dalmatians, the Humane Society distributed information about the challenges of owning Dalmatians and Disney included a message at the end of the movie, encouraging responsible pet ownership. Similarly when the movie G-Force, featuring computer-generated guinea pigs, was released in 2009, animal rescue groups created information discouraging families from adopting guinea pigs, and statements were included in the movie’s promotional materials and website encouraging people to think carefully and conduct research before adopting pets.