Chicago-Area Skunk Population Raises A Stink | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Chicago-Area Skunk Population Raises A Stink

Play associated audio

There is a slight stench as Brandon Owen steps out of his truck. The biologist is a wildlife technician with ABC Humane Wildlife Control, and his company has captured 687 skunks so far this year in northeastern Illinois — about 200 more than last year.

Owen and the company's president, Vito Brancato, are on a skunk run in Des Plaines, a suburb near Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

Brancato determines that an animal they just picked up is a juvenile.

"We've very lucky in that way, because we're going to at least be able to approach the skunk that is a little less likely to spray," Brancato says.

This is good news for Brancato, because skunks can spray the oily substance they use to defend themselves up to 15 feet — and their aim is good. Brancato and Owen find the skunk in a small cage in homeowner Richard Kaulback's leafy backyard.

The animal is small. Its white stripe is visible, but its head is hidden behind the trap door. Skunks are nocturnal animals — it appears to be asleep, and thankfully, its tail is down.

Kaulback has watched all sorts of wildlife traipse across his yard over the nearly 50 years he's lived in Des Plaines. This year has been a bad year for skunks.

"This is an ongoing thing all summer," Kaulback says. "Before, we had a lot of raccoons, but this is the first time we've had so many skunks. This is the second [or third] skunk we've got."

Brancato says skunk populations can grow large because they don't really have any natural predators.

"Their population numbers are only controlled by highways, you know, by cars," he says. "So they do pretty well because they don't really move a lot."

It's difficult to get a real count on the number of skunks in the state, says Illinois Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologist Bob Bluett. But the department makes a best guess by counting roadkill.

"We've seen a dramatic increase," Bluett says. He adds that there was a 46 percent increase in the number of skunks from 2009 to 2010.

Companies licensed by the department to capture skunks snared 8,700 of them across the state last year, most in the Chicago area. Bluett isn't certain why the numbers are up, but skunks in the Midwest are prone to rabies, and there hasn't been an outbreak to lessen their numbers for more than 25 years.

Even so, any skunk captured in Illinois is euthanized. And because skunk numbers are up, there's more chance of a household pet tangling with one outside.

"The first thing we tell them is don't let Fido or Fifi inside," says Rebecca Fyffe, of the Wildlife Control Policy Institute.

Wash them outside with peroxide and baking soda (not tomato juice, as the old wives' tale recommends) and make sure pets have rabies vaccinations. Of course, skunks aren't all bad: They love grubs and help keep the insect population down. And for years, they've even had their own cartoon mascot, Pepe Le Pew.

But Kaulback says there's nothing adorable about a skunk.

"They really stink up," Kaulback says. "Sometimes at night it's really bad out here."

And that's even with the door closed.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Not My Job: Travel Guru Rick Steves Gets Quizzed On Steve Ricks

Since we specialize in asking people things they know nothing about, we've decided to ask Rick Steves three questions about the people out there in the world who have his name, but reversed.
NPR

Syrup Induces Pumpkin-Spiced Fever Dreams

Hugh Merwin, an editor at Grub Street, bought a 63-ounce jug of pumpkin spice syrup and put it in just about everything he ate for four days. As he tells NPR's Scott Simon, it did not go well.
NPR

Texas Gubernatorial Candidates Go The Border To Court Voters

Republicans have won every statewide office in Texas for 20 years, but the growing Hispanic population tends to vote Democrat, and the GOP's survival may depend on recruiting Hispanic supporters.
NPR

Tech Week: Smartphone Privacy, Cyberstalking, Alibaba's Big Debut

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba makes the biggest debut on the NYSE ever. The details, and the other tech stories that piqued our interest, are in this week's roundup.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.