Prentiss Riddle: Garden

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Prentiss Riddle

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November 5, 2002, will long be remembered as the day the Republicans swept Texas and the nation, and I caught a skunk under the house.

I'd seen a couple of holes dug under the deck and the skirting of our pier-and-beam house but hadn't thought much about them until I saw an Unidentified Furry Object run into one late one night. In the dark I couldn't tell what it was; my first guess was raccoon, since I knew we had raccoons on the porch pretty regularly looking for leftover cat food, but its fuzzy gray shape didn't seem right and the hole seemed too small. Nor did it quite look like a possum, and do possums burrow, anyway?

After consulting some local sites on humane trapping I bought a cheap Havahart live trap at the hardware store ($30-$40 for the largeish, one-doored raccoon model). I baited it with cat food for a couple of rainy nights and caught nothing. Then on Tuesday night the weather turned clear and I thought, this is it.

Of course the first thing I caught was our cat. I'd expected that, but figured I'd only catch her once and she'd learn. Sure enough, the trap was quiet until 4:30 this morning, when I woke up to the sound of wild thumping and rattling. I turned on the porch light and saw -- oh no -- a skunk.

Specifically, I think it was a common Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis). I never saw a stripe, but it definitely was black with white fur on its head, much like the specimen on the right above.

Great, what am I supposed to do now? I thought. Pay somebody a hundred bucks to haul it off because I won't be able to move it or open the cage without getting sprayed?

But before I panicked, I visited the helpful Havahart skunk pages. There I learned that if I covered the cage with a blanket, I could probably handle it safely.

Blurry photos appropriate to my mental state at the time.
Left: Skunk Patrol Agent Riddle reporting for duty, sir! Note blanket, mask, balaclava. Not shown: eye protection, gloves.
Right: "Nessie" the skunk (NASA-enhanced photo).

So after improvising some chemical warfare gear, I followed Havahart's skunk tips. They worked like a charm. I loaded the blanked-covered cage on top of our minivan, drove to a nearby wilderness preserve (resisting my wife's suggestion to release it at the Governor's Mansion!), carefully opened the cage and stood back. The skunk walked out and scurried into the brush. Success!

Now I get to repeat the process tonight, for, as the online Mammals of Texas site says:

They are social creatures; often several individuals occupy a well-situated winter den. J.D. Bankston of Mason, Texas informed us that he removed as many as seven striped skunks from one winter den and that one of his neighbors found 10 in one den in December.
Seven to ten skunks! Wish me luck. The good news is that with all this experience, I may soon have an honest trade to fall back on. There'll always be money in wrangling skunks.
garden 2002.11.06 link