Taxonomic status and conservation relevance of the raccoons (Procyon spp.) of the West Indies

Authors

  • Kristofer M. Helgen,

    Corresponding author
    1. Mammal Department, Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
    2. Department of Environmental Biology, University of Adelaide, Adelaide 5005, Australia
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  • Don E. Wilson

    1. Division of Mammals, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20560, U.S.A.
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*K. M. Helgen, South Australian Museum, North Terrace, Adelaide, SA 5000, Australia. E-mail: kristofer.helgen@adelaide.edu.au

Abstract

Raccoons Procyon spp. from New Providence Island in the Bahamas and from Barbados and Guadeloupe in the Lesser Antilles have traditionally been recognized as distinctive species endemic to their respective islands. All three of these ‘species’ currently possess official conservation status of high concern. Bahamian and Guadeloupean raccoons are recognized as endangered species by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), which also considers the Barbados raccoon to be a recently extinct West Indian mammal. However, historical, biogeographic, genetic, and morphological evidence demonstrate that all three West Indian raccoon populations are the result of human-sponsored introductions from the eastern U.S.A. that have occurred in the past few centuries. Accordingly, these animals should not be considered either conservation priorities or recent losses of biodiversity in the Caribbean. Instead, they may actually represent ecological threats to the insular ecosystems on their respective islands. Procyonid conservation goals must be re-examined and updated accordingly.

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