A raccoon which roamed Wearside has been captured as it begins a new life.
The animal – native to North America – was first spotted in the garden of Ray Forsyth and his wife Lynne Wood last autumn under the cloak of darkness, with experts suggesting it was gorging on food from bins because of its huge size.
But now the mammal is awaiting a new home after the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs decided it should be removed from the Sunderland neighbourhood.
It has undergone a series of health checks, been vaccinated with efforts being made to find it a new home, where it could help educate people about the species.
When it was weighed, vets found it tipped the scales at 8.1kg, but its gender is still to be established.
The baited traps were laid down in the couple’s Sunderland garden and within hours of being set up to capture the beast, it had been caught.
Video footage has previously been recorded by cameras set up by Durham Wildlife Trust, which carried out a study as part of its Mammal Web project, before Defra then moved in to set up its own investigation.
Ray, 52, who is a driver trainer for the North East Ambulance Service, said: “It’s fine it’s been caught, because now it’s going to go and live with its own kind and we’ve started to get our frogs and hedgehogs back.
“It had eaten them all from our garden, so this will stop our pond from being ransacked.
“Defra has been bent on keeping it alive like me, but they’ve left the cage in situ just in case there turns out to be two.
“It’s good to know it’s been OK.”
Ray first spotted the stripey-tailed creature one night as he watched television before it was seen again, this time by the couple, a few nights later.
At the time, dad-of-three Ray said he would not have been more surprised “if it had been a space alien” but he and the family, including Lynne’s three children, have been fascinated by watching the raccoon visit the garden and catching it on video.
It seemed unfazed by people, simply picking up its foodie find and wandering off when a torch was shone on it.
Its discovery followed on from a raccoon being picked up by Sunderland University’s CCTV system last February.
It is thought the animals have been released into the wild in the UK because of a change in the law, which means there is now no requirement to keep a raccoon, and because people find they do not make good pets as they reach adulthood and become aggressive.
Experts with Durham Wildlife Trust pleaded with people not to feed it because it looked very large and said they are a threat to native species.