By Lily Alexander
A small condominium complex on the edge of a small town along Lake Travis had unknowingly created an ideal habitat for a skunk mother and her babies. The complex had a lovely open rock wall, which acted partially as a retaining wall and partially as a fence, surrounding the buildings and forming the edge of the parking area. The parking lot was adjacent to undeveloped woods and grasslands.
Skunks are nocturnal omnivores whose primary diet is insects, but they love to eat and will consume a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, in addition to rodents, spiders and snakes, pet food, and birdseed. So this small community had created a wonderful place for a skunk mother to have her den. Despite the idyllic environmental conditions, skunk mothers move their babies every few days in order to keep the scent of the den from attracting predators. Sometimes while moving the babies, the mother either drops or leaves a baby behind. It’s nature’s way, often the result of illness or problems with the baby skunk, a perceived threat to the mother, or sometimes injury or death of the mother.
In the case of this small community, one baby, who was about 4 weeks old, got left behind. At this age, the eyes are just opening, and the baby is more toddling than walking. If curled up, the baby would be a little smaller than a tennis ball. While baby skunks are born with the infamous scent gland inside their anus, they are incapable of “skunking” or spraying anyone until at least 2-3 months old. So while they may sometimes “poot” a little scent, especially if they fall, are scared, or going to the bathroom, they cannot spray. It is also at this age that their teeth are coming in, but they wouldn’t have the jaw strength to hurt anyone, even with fully formed teeth.
But people are very afraid of skunks, and this poor little abandoned baby had the entire condominium community in an uproar. So for days they tried spraying skunk repellent on it, spraying it with the hose, and blocking the opening to the baby’s den, all to no avail. This little baby was blind and helpless and not able to move away. Further, he had survived for days without any food, as the sole nutrition at that age is mother’s milk. So, despite efforts to make him leave, he could only stay.
The condominium owners called every agency they could think of to have him removed, but this small town did not have the proper information or manpower to assist them. Finally, after 5 days, the owners called All Things Wild Rehabilitation, and we went to retrieve the baby.
By the time we arrived, nature had started “recycling” the little body. The male baby was covered with maggots, and fleas and ants were arriving but thankfully were not yet biting. The baby could hardly move at that point and was simply lying out in the open. A healthy skunk will not do this and will rarely, if ever, be seen during the midday. We immediately washed the baby and began the time-consuming, painstaking process of de-infesting him. He received subcutaneous injections of fluids around the clock for approximately 36 hours. He couldn’t swallow and didn’t remember how to suckle. His gums were white from anemia, and he couldn’t maintain his body temperature.
Over time, he gradually started moving more but was acting strangely, which made us think perhaps there was more trauma or other problems, either from the dehydration, malnutrition, or something else. After 3 days, he began to respond! After 5 days, aside from being very bony and small for his age and not knowing how to eat normally, he began behaving exactly like a baby skunk should: playful, sweet, curious, vocal, and “stomping” every chance he got. (Stomping is the movement skunks make with both front feet before they turn their rear end and scent gland toward their attacker).
Please pass on the news to those you know that skunks are our allies, not our enemies. They are much like cats and dogs in terms of intelligence and personality and have as much right to life as any other animal. They also do an incredible job of managing otherwise unwanted pests Skunks naturally keep to themselves, have poor eyesight, and will try to stay away from the chaos of most residential areas. They do not spray for fun or malice; the spray is their only defense when cornered. They will continue on their way if we and our pets leave them alone, and we don’t leave pet food outside.
At All Things Wild Rehabilitation, we are grateful for the resilience of nature and the indomitable spirit of these amazing animals. This little fighter, whom we named Pew Bear, will hopefully live out a long and productive life, as he works alongside all of nature to balance this precious and delicate ecosystem of ours.