Why are skunks so creepy (another Quora question)?

April 8, 2019

All other wild animals make every choice, every movement, in the context of danger checks from their environment. Skunks are utterly self-involved.

When I have had a chance to watch skunks in daylight, each has had a slightly comical detachment reminiscent of the best Bond villains.

Case in point: Our cat lived outside in a heated kennel with a heated water bowl and her food dish inside the small shelter. Something had been booting her out and eating the kibble at night recently, so I had been pressed into service with the Have-A-Heart live trap to remove the miscreant. I suspected a raccoon.

It was 6:30 on a summer evening when I looked out the long laneway leading to the house. Up the road at a slow, undulating gallop came the fattest skunk I had ever seen. This Falstaffian character had a magnificent coat of black and white, and everything was in motion as he approached. It wasn’t that he was nearsighted and didn’t notice me. He just didn’t care. All he could think about was another meal of that glorious cat kibble. The image sticks in my mind of this beautiful, clean, shiny, happy critter, with its mind fixed on one single idea: food.

Of course as he grew closer I grew more and more uncomfortable. Here I was setting up a Have-A-Heart, but it was I who felt trapped. There was no point in attempting to shoo the critter away. He was too dumb to frighten, and of course he had the nuclear option.

Sorry, Cat. I must retreat.

Subterfuge time. I built my skunk-removal strategy around coping with the fallout from the nuclear blast. Obviously the interception point should not be the front verandah of a tall, Victorian brick house in mid-summer. I considered the prevailing wind and land elevation and eventually set the trap behind a low stone wall, to the north and east of the house. The rest of the plan involved a small wagon to transport the toxic trap and its contents after despatch with a .22 round. A raccoon would climb aboard the wagon and into the trap quite willingly, but Falstaff, here, looked as though the height might be a problem for him.

So a day or so later I did the deed, then lifted the trap onto the wagon, dropped the handle over the trailer hitch on my UTV, and towed the reeking problem a half-mile back to the woods, where I unhitched the wagon and got out of there to let the radiation die down.

A couple of days later after a rain I was able to dump Falstaff’s carcass out of the trap for the vultures, but I still had to leave trap and wagon out in the weather in an open area for the forseeable future. Back at the house the ground under the scene of the assassination was soaked with musk. A month later the area still smelled of skunk, but it was away from the house and life went on.

Karma did in the trap and the wagon, though. A neighbour’s tractor ran over the wagon and crushed the trap while mowing the field. I guess I had left my skunk-removal rig out in the air for a little too long.

That’s why skunks seem creepy. They produce in us feelings of admiration undercut by fear, revulsion, and guilt. And the skunks don’t know or care.

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