Three Orphaned Skunks Venture Back into the Forest

Despite being a quiet, relatively small, and nocturnal mammal, skunks aren’t widely embraced as a favorite urban species. In addition to building dens in remote and varied habitats, skunks have been known to den beneath people’s porches and in their sheds, leading residents to worry that their dogs or cats could get sprayed.

Unfortunately for skunks, the methods many people implement to rid their yard of their wild neighbors, most frequently trapping and relocating or trapping and killing, are inhumane and lead to unintended consequences: orphaned babies.

Ian Abraham and Tim Donner release three orphaned skunks back into the wild.

In July we received a call from a resident who, in an attempt to drive a skunk out of his yard, sprayed one with a pressure hose. We don’t know if the mother died or if she was scared away, but she did not return and a few days later, her hungry babies emerged from their den looking for her. Sadly, every summer we get calls about babies who were orphaned due to human interference. At this point in the process, when people find out that the skunk they forcibly removed was a lactating mother, they often feel remorse and want to help the babies. That’s when they bring them to us. If those same people knew just how easy it is to safely and humanely prompt skunks to vacate and relocate themselves, so many lives would be saved.

“Whenever you have a conflict with an animal, the first thing you need to do is find out what is motivating the animal to be there,” explained Lacy Campbell, our Wildlife Care Center Operations Manager. “If you don’t want the animal there, just trapping and relocating or trapping and killing won’t do anything because you’re leaving a nice place for another animal to come in.”

Instead, Lacy advises people to find out where the skunks (or racoons – it works for them too) are denning and then, put in a shop light or a radio on a talk station. Both of these simple acts turn that quiet cozy den into an undesirable place. Not a dangerous place. Just one that doesn’t appeal to the animal.

“It really just takes a couple hours and they vacate,” added Lacy. “A lot of these animals have a few different den sites. Then, make sure you close up the original space, otherwise some other animal is going to find that exact same spot under your house and you will be back where you started.”

As for the babies? We cared for them until they were old enough to head out on their own. On a warm September day, Ian Abraham and Tim Donner, two members of our education team, released the three babies in a quiet safe spot in the woods near a stream.

“One of them who had the propensity to spray more than the others was the first to leave,” said Ian.

“The second one walked around quite a bit and sniffed the carriers, went to check out a nurse log, started digging around and then disappeared into the understory. The third one was the most unique, taking about ten minutes to explore the general vicinity, and also doing quite a bit of digging, a classic skunk behavior with those long claws. Not only digging but smelling. That was pretty cool, hearing it take three or four quick breaths in and one breath out after each dig. And then smelling that spot, probably looking for grubs to eat before heading into the woods.”

We were able to photograph these three young skunks as they journeyed into the forest, happy to see them back in the wild where they belong.

Every year the Wildlife Care Center treats 3,000 injured or orphaned native animals. If you would like to make a donation to support our wildlife rehabilitation work at the Wildlife Care Center, click here.