FLINT TWP. — Most homeowners don’t welcome skunks living under the shed, the deck or anywhere else on the property.
But Laurel Zoet is quite happy to share her home with two of the white-striped critters. Ernie and Stinkerbell are her pets. They have been descented which means their glands have been removed so that they cannot spray the foul odor they are known for.
Zoet is a naturalist/educator from Nature on the Go, a portable nature program that travels around making presentations at libraries, schools, senior living facilities and to other mass audiences.
Speaking last week at the McCarty Branch of the Genesee District Library, Zoet talked about skunks in the wild and the joys and challenges of living with Ernie and Stinkerbell, who she brought with her for show and tell.
Zoet presented an informative slideshow about skunks that included a close-up photo of a spraying skunk that was taken by a man who has no sense of smell, she said. She discussed the mating habits, burrowing habits and eating habits of the animals which are known to travel up to four miles per night looking for food.
They are very nearsighted so the often end up as roadkill. Natural predators include foxes and owls that also are not scared off by the smell. Zoet kindly provided a deodorizing recipe for humans or their pets who have the misfortune of a close encounter with a skunk that has not been descented. Skunks are nocturnal, solitary animals who go into defense mode whenever they feel threatened. Zoet used a tape measure and water spray bottle to demonstrate that the shooting range of a rattled skunk is ten feet or more.
She also said skunks are lazy and will move into an existing burrow, such as under your deck, instead of going to the trouble of creating a new one.
They dig up the yard looking for grub worms and will also turn over trash left out overnight. Zoet recommended not leaving pet food or bird feed around to attract skunks because they will eat anything.
A skunk living in the wild has an average lifespan of about four years, she said.
On the other hand, Ernie and Stinkerbell are expected to live a lot longer. They are litter-boxed trained like cats and eat a mixed diet which Zoet provides.
Ernie has charcoal and white fur and Stinkerbell is brown and white which are only two examples of the variety of colors and stripe patterns that skunks have. Zoet showed a photo of a lavender colored skunk.
She acquired both skunks from a Michigan breeder because pet skunks cannot be imported outside of the state. Michigan is one of about 19 states that allow skunks to be kept as pets, most requiring a permit.
Zoet did not allow her audience to pet Ernie and Stinkerbell because of state laws and liabilities should the animals become upset enough to bite. They would then have to be euthanized for rabies testing. She passed around a skunk pelt so her audience could feel the fur. Coats made from skunk fur were quite popular at one time.
Zoet encouraged enthusiasts to visit Skunk Fest an annual event held in Ohio that attracts people from as far away as Canada. For more information, visit www.skunkhaven.net/ SkunkFest.htm
For more information about Zoet’s educational programs, visit www.natureonthego.com