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Skunks have a bad reputation for their smelly spray, but they should be recognized as champion pest controllers! Skunks tend to prey on rodents and insects that can cause significant damage to the average home. When left alone, skunks are rarely recognized in a neighborhood and will happily live under the radar, foraging and hunting for food once the sun goes down. Conflicts will occur however, when a skunk is startled or attacked (often by roaming cats and dogs). When a skunk becomes defensive, it will stomp its feet, raise its trail, and finally (if worse comes to worse) release its anal glands and spray a foul discharge onto its attacker.
• Skunks are nocturnal omnivores whose diet can consist of anything from insects and rodents to fruits and leaves
• A skunk’s vision is quite poor, so although they mostly keep to themselves, they are easy to startle. Curious cats and dogs that are off-leash are most likely to come upon skunks and cause them to spray
• Skunks breed in February and March; the female will dig out a den to house her litter and kits are born in May
• Skunks can spray their anal glands secretions several times over very long distances before the gland is emptied. It can take over a week before the gland is refilled and ready to be used again
To prevent skunks from taking up residence in your yard, it is best to think proactively. Make sure any spaces under sheds and porches are closed off with chicken wire or other sturdy materials. Keep your garbage secured in the bins, clean up any fruit that may have dropped onto the ground from trees, and make sure you remove any pet food from outside your home. Skunks will be attracted to areas where food is abundant and there are places to hide during the day. By removing these things, you’re ensuring that any skunks that are looking for a new home will have to look elsewhere.
Remember, most people don’t even realize they share a neighbourhood with skunks. Skunks are not aggressive animals, and do not seek to harm your or your family. They will give ample warnings before spraying, so it’s just a matter of recognizing the warnings and giving the skunk space. Remember: Skunks will raise their tails, stomp their feet, and turn their tail toward you before resorting to spraying. If you see any of these signs, STOP! Slowly back away and allow the skunk to go about its business whenever possible. Keep pets inside at night and dogs on leashes. Skunks are transient and solitary animals and once the family has matured and are ready to travel, the family will disperse and move on to new areas alone.
If you have a skunk or skunk family on your property and wish to have it removed, there are a few strategies you can employ, but please try to avoid attempting removals between May and August, baby skunks will likely be present and you risk killing the kits during this period
1. Repellents: Attempt to discourage skunks from hanging around your hard by identifying where the skunk is denning on your property. Look for holes under sheds and porches. You can loosely cover these holes with rocks or crumpled newspaper in the evening and check to see if they have been removed by a skunk the following day. If you’re confident that a skunk is using that space to den, fill a couple of empty containers with household ammonia and place a rag or cut-up t-shirt into the ammonia. Place these containers around the areas where the skunk is coming in and out (but not in the hole). The fumes will irritate the skunk enough to encourage it to find a more hospitable home. Be sure to keep replenishing the ammonia and checking to see if the skunk is still present. Once you’re confident the skunk is gone, permanently cover the hole with chicken wire sunk a few inches into the ground.
2. Trapping: Trapping skunks is not always very effective, and moving a trapped skunk increases the risk of getting sprayed. If you do trap a skunk, it is your responsibility to relocate it. Keep in mind that relocation means transporting a skunk in your vehicle and releasing it in an appropriate area. Skunks that have been trapped must be released within 24 hours of being trapped. Keeping a skunk in a trap any longer is considered animal abuse. Care must be taken to permanently cover up the areas where the skunk was denning so that other skunks will not simply take up residence in that same location.
3. Pest Control: Consider contacting a humane pest control professional to remove unwanted skunks, and make sure the area is permanently modified to prevent future skunks from denning.
Skunks are weaned 8 weeks after birth and will begins to venture out of the den with the mother. Sometimes young skunks wander off during the day and are thought to be orphaned. Usually this is not the case, and there is no need to intervene. If a skunk looks bright and alert and is just out exploring, leave it alone. If you find one that looks lethargic, injured or is trapped in a window well, it is best to call a wildlife rehabilitation organization and get advice from there.
Skunks are considered a rabies vector species. Cases in Alberta are rare, but it is a good idea to be aware of the potential risk. Never handle a skunk or attempt to keep one as a pet. Rabies is passed through the exchange of infected body fluids, so bites are the most common route of transmission. If you see a skunk behaving abnormally (acting aggressively, wandering aimlessly, or circling) do not approach it. Contact a wildlife rehabilitation centre and the proper protocol will be employed.