MISSY the raccoon may have to be put down thanks to new European Union legislation, according to a local zoo director.

Chris Moiser, zoo director at Tropiquaria in Watchet, said that the EU has introduced a new regulation regarding 'invasive species' which are animals that have been translocated from their natural area and established themselves in another, usually to the detriment of the indigenous ecosystem.

Mr Moiser said that part of this regulation dictates that commercial keepers (which include zoos) have two years in which to either transfer the animals deemed 'high risk potential invaders' to research facilities, a conservation facility, or to kill them.

Raccoons are on this list due to the way they have caused havoc in Germany by attacking vineyards and domestic wildlife.

In the Second World War a number of raccoons escaped from a bombed fur farm and their population has exploded to the point that there are estimated to be a million in the Germany today.

But Mr Moiser believes research facilities are unlikely to take the animals and conservation societies will not want them as they are far from an endangered species.

Mr Moiser said: "What the regulation and the background documents do not reveal though is that this population developed from a founding populations of hundreds that escaped from a bombed fur farm during the war, and that this was bolstered by reinforcements from a Russian introduction programme which proved to be a little too successful.

"The chances of such a population establishing here from the odd zoo or pet escape are phenomenally unlikely."

"We are a small zoo, we love our animals, some of the ex-pets are particularly endearing and friendly. Our raccoons Missy and Rocky are possibly top of that list. How do I explain to my staff and visitors that we have had to kill them because Europe says so, partly because of a bomb that fell in the wrong place in the Second World War?"

A European Commission spokesman said: "The EU is not asking anyone to kill raccoons. Rocky, Missy and the other pet zoo animals can remain in the zoo family.

"Meanwhile this EU legislation will protect the UK from a wide range of invasive species that could do significant damage in the wild."