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2011: The Year of the Skunk

Village reports record complaints regarding the pest.

Skunks have made headlines across the Chicago area recently as municipalities grapple with an exploding population during the peak season for skunk activity (mid August through early November.) 

City officials in Des Plaines, for example, recently had to call in private contractors to help their overextended animal control officer.

The skyrocketing skunk population, however, is not news to those whose job it is to keep an eye on the critters, says John Buhnerkempe, chief of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ division of wildlife resources. According to Buhnerkempe, the skunk population surged by 46 percent from 2009 to 2010. (The numbers for 2011 won’t be compiled until early next year, Buhnerkempe said, but will likely reflect further increases in the population.)

In Northbrook, animal control officer Gina Manski confirmed that the village has been inundated with the pests this year. But there are signs that the animal’s population is starting to succumb to disease, a trend associated with a mammal whose numbers are peaking, according to Manski. In one recent week, she said, five area skunks turned up infected with distemper. Such skunks are usually seen during the day, and are often reported to be acting strangely. The village traps them and euthanizes them free of charge because they are considered “sick or injured” wildlife, and therefore a danger to human health, according to Manski. 

Buhnerkempe said the current booming skunk population reflects favorable conditions for skunks to reproduce and thrive, but like a pendulum that eventually swings back the other way, Illinois' skunk population will sooner or later experience its fair share of rabies infections. Combined with distemper, the two illnesses can make the skunk population plunge rapidly. 

So far this year there have been 144 skunk-related complaints in Northbrook, Manski said. About two thirds of them came from properties that did not contain skunk dens, evidence that most callers were noticing skunks that were merely passing through a given property rather than living on it. This is the most common type of skunk sighting, according to Manski

Although this is the first year the village has formally kept track of skunk complaints, Manski is certain there are more such incidents. Right on time, the village received its first skunk complaint the day after Valentine’s Day—when skunk mating season begins. Typically, skunk activity continues to remain high through early fall, when skunks feed for the winter, then declines significantly around the time of the area’s first frost, Manski explained. 

The animal control officer has had her own skunk issues as well in recent weeks. Three skunks in particular have been plaguing Manski’s property and two of her dogs were sprayed. She called a service to catch the skunks, but unfortunately, all that turned up in the traps were opossum. Manksi believes, she too, was just another victim of a skunk passing through—rather than one making a home on her property.

Other Northbrook residents have had similar complaints.

“We have to keep our windows closed at night, there are so many ‘accidents’ of a skunky-nature around here,” said Josh Braken, who lives in an apartment near downtown Northbrook.

“We catch them running through the patio areas behind my building every so often.”

Midday Wednesday, as if on cue, the pungent odor of skunk wafted up from a stretch of Shermer Road near Glenbrook North High School, just a mile south of Braken’s home. Visible in the northbound lanes, the skunk casualty appeared to have gone down to a vehicle.

About an hour later and a mile northeast, the scent of skunk could also be detected along the western side of the Anetsberger Golf Course near Techny Park and Prairie. 

Despite their odor, there are a few unexpected upsides to skunks. They actually do a service for homeowners by removing Japanese beetle larva, or grubs, from lawns, according to Manski.

And some states even allow people to keep skunks—which can be litter-box trained—as pets.

In Glencoe, . Police advised the caller to slide a wooden board into the well, which succeeded in allowing the skunk to make its escape.

Manski recently had an encounter with a baby skunk herself. She petted the animal, which had had its odor gland removed, at The Grove in Glenview.

Her report? Should you ever get up close to stroke its fur, this stinky pest actually has a soft side. 

Lester Burgher November 03, 2011 at 01:05 PM
I love the little critters.....but they're not rodents. I think they're in the same family as weasels, ferrets and mink, which explains their "soft side"
Ed60062 November 03, 2011 at 02:49 PM
I love them too...as long as they stay in your backyard...and as long as the wind is not blowing in my direction.
Jennifer Fisher (Editor) November 03, 2011 at 04:33 PM
Lester, you are right! We apologize for the error.
Jennifer Fisher (Editor) November 03, 2011 at 04:34 PM
I second that. I saw one crossing the street oh so slowly about five feet in front of me at the Cherry Lane underpass last week. I backed away as quietly as I could and then I started moving very quickly in the opposite direction! It just meandered slowly across the street as if it owned the place.
Peter Barnes November 03, 2011 at 07:44 PM
If your dog gets sprayed, take them to Carriage Hill Kennels in Glenview. They specialze in getting things back to normal!
Birgit Tigrib November 04, 2011 at 12:34 AM
If your dog is sprayed, DO NOT wet him first. Make a mixture of 1/4 c. baking soda, 1 qt. peroxide, 1 tsp. liquid dish soap. pour it directly on the sprayed area. Leave on for 3 to 4 mins. Rinse and shampoo. OR you can call The Complete Dog @847/291/7431
Glenn Wall November 04, 2011 at 03:30 AM
Thanks, Birgit.

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