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Finding skunks a home and other quandaries

I hadn't really intended to write another article about predators and predation at this time but a story in the Memphis Commercial Appeal made it seem hard to resist.

It seems that over near Conway, Ark., a business firm was being harassed by numerous skunks. The owner had a local pest control firm trap them and, in some manner, they were disposed of by drowning.

According to a lady who filed a complaint in the name of the local humane society, the traps were set in large drums and subsequently, when trapped, the skunks were drowned.

This lady (according to my best information) was preparing to file a lawsuit and charge the “perpetrators” with being unwilling to simply trap the skunks and “re-locate” them.

I wonder how they would ever find a suitable “re-location” since skunks that I've been acquainted with were surely rather undesirable from virtually every standpoint known to man, including their frightful smell and being one of the worst predators, especially on eggs of ground-nesting birds such as quail and wild turkey. In fact, no less an authority than Dr. George Hurst of Mississippi State University rates the striped skunk as the second worst predator of all against wild turkey (the masked bandit raccoon being number one).

Skunks, like coons, are intelligent animals and manage to find and destroy every ground nest in some areas with high populations of these two animals. Dr. Hurst further states, “Predation of turkey hens during the breeding period of egg-laying, incubating, and brood-rearing was the major factor affecting turkey populations.” On one sizable study area, predators, primarily coons and skunks, destroyed 100 percent of the nesting attempts on the property.

The seemingly ridiculous antics carried on by a small “lunatic fringe” of the population are unlimited. In this same issue of the newspaper, a group calling itself People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA for short) is asking that the town of Fishkill, N.Y., change its name to “Fishsave” since the group is promoting a program in schools to prevent fishing, stating that, “fish are able to feel pain and, therefore, to use them for your enjoyment is wrong.” Fortunately, Mayor George Carter of Fishkill “won't take the bait” and change the town's historical name.

Ironically, these same individuals who want skunks “re-located” and fishing prohibited are the very ones who promote and cheer documentaries on the Discovery Channel picturing gory scenes of African predators like lions and leopards violently killing and eating alive beautiful and helpless antelope and gazelle while repugnant hyenas hang back in droves to devour what the huge predators leave.

This same sort of thinking exists regarding the raptors in the bird family such as red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, falcons and, yes, eagles (even though they are our national bird). I think maybe Ben Franklin was right when he suggested that the wild turkey be our national bird. I assure you that the turkey's habits are considerably more refined than those of any of the named predatory raptors.

Some of us outdoor types have seen firsthand how large hawks and owls treat fresh-caught turkey poults and/or rabbits that are often devoured while the poor victim is still alive and making pitiful noises. Not only are these raptors almost deified in some circles, they are totally protected by the feds. To try and reduce them to sensible numbers could land you in jail.

All of this is not to say that we all ought to kill skunks, coons and other predators on sight. Quite frankly, I don't recall ever having killed a skunk, but I have gotten to the point where I sometimes take a coon when legal. Skunks are pretty much “home free” from all of us nowadays, a situation that used to not be so.

When I was a small boy, a well-known rural dweller near my little hometown of Oakland eked out part of a meager living by trapping. Skunks were his primary target. This old boy became so permeated with the odor of skunks that you could smell him when he walked in the front door of the Oakland Mercantile on a Saturday afternoon. Most of us who could made quick getaways and harbored a sense of compassion for the store clerks who had to wait on him for his weekly supplies.

Of course, we've all learned in recent times (that one of my friends calls the Age of Lunacy), that it takes all kinds and no amount of preaching or even commonsense changes things very much. I might ask in closing that any of my readers who are willing to accept some skunks for re-location, please get in touch with me. I will give you publicity in my column that you richly deserve.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This Outdoor Observations column is a reprint from the Sept. 27, 1996, issue of Delta Farm Press. Mabry Anderson continues to recover from recent illnesses.

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