A Skunk Family’s Tale

Baby SkunksFront porches and steps are one of the favourite areas for Striped Skunks to set up nesting/denning sites. These dark, hollow places are relatively safe from predators. Nuzzled up to a homes’ foundation in these hollows during winter can even be a warm place. But they are great places for an urban female striped skunk to give birth. Calgary Humane Wildlife Control (CHWC), exists because citizens of Calgary want an alternative to pest control/extermination companies. There are no government agencies, provincial or municipal, that will help homeowners with skunk intrusions. Therefore the only alternative, until now, has been pest/extermination companies. Many of our clients have reported using a pest/extermination company in prior years, but they are very unhappy with the results. All of our clients do not want the animal(s) harmed in any way. A telephone survey conducted by CHWC staff revealed that some pest control/extermination companies say they relocate skunks far from where they are trapped, but some say outright that they will euthanize the animal(s). Neither of these outcomes offers a long term solution for homeowners, not to mention the skunk(s). Studies show that 60% of urban animals that are relocated to “wild” settings perish within two weeks. You have to remember that these are “urban” animals, and have adapted to living along side humans. They have learned that we can supply them with food, water and shelter, the 3 basics of life. Many of these animals have been living in the urban environment for generations, so when they are dumped out in the country somewhere, they not only have to find these 3 things again, but now they have to face new predators and, being territorial animals, their own “wild” corresponding species.

There are many downsides to the whole trapping/relocating thing, but another is that it can actually cause a rise in the urban population. A skunk’s territory can be up to about 7 square kilometres. Within that territory it will have several denning sites and favourite places to dine. This territory can only support a certain number of skunks. Ecologists refer to this as the “carrying capacity” of an environment/habitat. By removing a skunk from its territory only opens it up to neighbouring skunks to move into. If that skunk happens to be a female and her food intake increase her birth numbers will also increase. The average female skunk gives birth to 2 - 4 offspring. However, a well fed “urban” skunk can give birth to up to 13 offspring.

Baby SkunksAnother downside to hiring pest control/extermination companies is, they don’t address the real problem. CHWC believes that the problem isn’t really that a skunk is under your stairs, it’s that a skunk got under your stairs. Therefore you need to address the stairs or it is going to happen again. A skunk doesn’t have to spray to leave a scent behind. Being a member of the mustelid family it has a natural musky/skunky smell. This scent remains even after the animal is removed drawing other animals to the former denning site. And these are some of the reason surrounding why a couple residing in the Coventry community of Calgary, AB called CHWC for help with their skunk situation. This particular house had two wooden steps leading up to a nice porch/sitting area. It leads down to a concrete walkway that ran along side the garage to join the parking pad. The homeowners had called trapping service in 2008 at a cost of $250.00. The company set a trap, but caught nothing. In the spring of 2009 the homeowners once again discovered skunks under their front steps. Wow, $250.00 for no results at all. But that all changed when CHWC got involved.

Skunk BabiesIn the spring skunks can be particularly difficult to extract. If a female has babies she will defend them the best way she knows how, and no one wants to get sprayed by a skunk. The trick is separating momma skunk from her babies just long enough to get them out of the den before momma comes back. Luckily technicians from Calgary Humane Wildlife Control are trained and certified for this type of extraction. CHWC uses techniques that have been researched and used for more than a quarter of a century. These techniques are science based and revolve around knowing a skunk’s biology and behaviours during the various seasons. Understanding an animal’s biology and behaviour during the different seasons is a prerequisite to successfully solving wildlife intrusions and preserving customer satisfaction.

The pictures and video are moments captured after all animals were out from under the stairs. Momma skunk had left the babies by themselves for awhile and the pictures and video are of the babies trying to dig their way back under the stairs and walkway. Momma returned shortly afterwards and all moved on. Six babies in total were relocated by momma skunk to her alternative den site. As for the homeowners? They were very happy with the results and especially happy they had a guarantee from CHWC that it would not happen again.

If you, or a friend, ever experience a problem like a skunk intrusion, or would like to take preventative measures to ensure it will never happen, the only call you need to make is to Calgary Humane Wildlife Control, 587-888-WILD (9453).

By Ken Cheek, CHWC