A raccoon leaped from a nearby tree, landing on the third-floor terrace of Blanton Residence Hall. It paused momentarily, snarled and then quickly advanced to Katie McGhee and their group of friends, who were gathered for a socially distanced viewing of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.”
Shouting and screaming, the group fled inside. Movie night was canceled.
McGhee, a linguistics freshman, said this was only the beginning of an amusing relationship with UT campus wildlife.
Since that night, the same movie-intruding raccoon, nicknamed “Buddy,” has ruled the Honors Quad and tormented McGhee at most meals.
The Animal Make Safe Program, part of UT Environmental Health and Safety, monitors wildlife on campus and responds to animal incidents.
Carin Peterson, a senior training and outreach coordinator with EHS, said while the program does not directly track raccoon numbers, it is likely that because UT has an urban campus, it has more raccoons than the average university.
After days of having to “fend him off by yelling ‘no’ repeatedly” and running indoors to safety, McGhee decided to take matters into their own hands.
One morning, as McGhee was eating breakfast outside, Buddy approached again.
“He was making eyes at my food,” McGhee said. “I had some marshmallows, so I set a handful on the edge of the terrace.”
McGhee then crafted a trail of marshmallows, leading Buddy slowly away from their food. While Buddy onced bothered McGhee, it’s now a “love-hate relationship,” McGhee said.
Across campus, students share similar experiences. While they may not pay tuition, raccoons are a vital part of life at UT.
When art history freshman Caitlin Jones finishes work at Moore-Hill Residence Hall and makes her routine midnight commute back to her dorm in San Jacinto Residence Hall, she said she sees raccoons everywhere.
In twos and threes, they have ravaged garbage cans, knocking over styrofoam containers and stealing scraps of leftover dining hall mashed potatoes.
“I haven’t been scared by them,” Jones said. “It’s just funny.”
Last week, a raccoon chased Jones up the stairs to her dorm.
While raccoons are nocturnal, Hayley Rodgers, arts and entertainment technologies freshman, said she’s had encounters with them during the day.
On a walk around campus at midday, Rodgers and friends were approached by a raccoon that jumped out of a trash can.
“It scared the living daylights out of us,“ Rodgers said. “It was close enough to touch us.”
After posing for some photos, the raccoon ran up a tree and taunted a small dog that was being walked nearby.
Rodgers said she worries that seeing raccoons during the day could be a sign that they have rabies. Peterson said while this fear is warranted, seeing a raccoon midday does not necessarily mean it has rabies. Peterson said mating season and high food presence are likely reasons for daytime activity.
Day or night, Peterson urged students to stay clear of the animals and call EHS if one approaches without a reason. She also said students should avoid feeding the campus wildlife.
“We value our wildlife residents and understand many of them are cute, but please admire them from afar,” Peterson said. “If you come face to face with one of our wildlife residents, the most important thing to remember is to give the animal some space. Don’t corner, harass or try to touch or feed the animal.”
Editor’s note: If students have issues or concerns about a raccoon's behavior, they are encouraged to contact UT Environmental Health and Safety’s Animal Make Safe Program at 512-471-2287 during business hours (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and 512-471-2671 after hours.