For the Love of Skunks

3-1By Pam De Fouw

Over the past several years, our population of striped skunks has been diminishing.  As growth and development continues, the skunk has less and less adequate habitat in which to live and traverse.  The extension and widening of roads makes it truly difficult to pass from one boundary to the next.  Striped skunks are relatively slow moving mammals with poor eyesight, relying on their acute sense of smell and hearing to detect both predator and prey, leaving them ill equipped to deal with modern vehicular traffic.   Ironically, many of our neighborhoods’ last interactions with skunks involved road kill incidents, as all but the smell is forgotten.

Thanks to our valued supporters, the Wildlife Center of Venice was able to rescue and raise 8 striped skunks last year, for their eventual return to the wild.  Our long term goal is to help species like the striped skunk retain its historic foothold in our community, and hopefully someday to reconnect small isolated pocket populations within our rescue range through the use of a wildlife corridor system.  The majority of our striped skunks, and spotted skunks for that matter, come from either the Englewood area or the Myakka City region, with very limited connectivity between these small populations.  In addition to loss of habitat and habitat fragmentation, skunks are often persecuted due to their inherent odor, for fear of their defensive spray, or their reputation as a rabies vector species (a rare carrier in Florida).  As someone that has worked with many skunks, both young and adult, I’d say this reputation is undeserved, as they tend to keep their distance when allowed and spray only as a last resort in most cases.  Even co-founder, Kevin Barton, has only been sprayed a couple times in 18 years of capturing, handling and examining them, and neither case required a tomato bath.

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So yes, skunks can and do spray but only as a means of protection.  They are mostly nocturnal, but also may be crepuscular (meaning active in early mornings and evenings).  As with most mammals, the females are very protective of their young and do not usually venture far from them.  This is one major reason the WCV is usually against the trapping and relocation of such species, as it leaves young to starve and adults to unfamiliar turf.

The beneficial fact about skunks is that they eat large quantities of insects and grubs, rodents and moles and even snakes, which I know are so popular in residential developments.  Remember, these little critters, unlikely to cause conflict, will wage war on these other pests, free of charge.  Also one should remember that many species’ populations have dramatically declined, like the striped skunk, with little notice, not having the protections afforded more notable species through the endangered species act.   With your help, we continue to fight for our patients, our community and our biodiversity.

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