In the stillness of the morning, before the crowds descend on their sunny mountain home, three 5 month old skunks rampage and frolic.
Digby, Isabel and Padfoot (boy, girl, girl) are snooping around on the tile floor in The Loft at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. With their fluffy white and black tails curled into question marks, the three wait and wait under the table where keepers are assembling meals for the animals in the enclosed space, always hopeful of the occasional dropped morsel. They’re also big fans of Bean, the two-toed sloth, who snuggles up in a rope hammock that dangles from the ceiling and is known for regularly having dropsy with his snacks.
“I love how curious they are,” said Loft Leadership Guardian Jennifer Quinn. “You are very mischievous. You need to do some research. They are also relaxed and easy-going animals. They get a really bad rap and the more I can change my mind and heart about how cool these animals are, the better off they are in the wild and we can live in harmony.”
The three little nuggets, which arrived at the zoo when they were only 6 to 7 weeks old, came down already, meaning the gland had been removed with the pesky skunk spray. The skunks have an important role to play: zoo ambassadors. You will be part of ZOOMobile, the zoo’s community outreach program, traveling to birthday parties, assisted living facilities, schools and more.
“I love that they don’t care what the people around them are doing,” Quinn said. “Like oh someone built a house here? That’s cool. I’ll just dig under this tool shed and make my home here. Oh, the bugs that used to be here aren’t quite here anymore? Oh look, there’s a vegetable patch. You are so adaptable. They roll with everything.”
But skunks are a terrible pest, aren’t they?
No, and how dare you. Yes, they love coming into your backyard junk but only if you’ve been careless about closing it tightly and yes they will scour your garden for carrots and tulip bulbs but they can’t help themselves. They’re just so hungry and opportunistic: “I’ve never seen a skunk get fed in all my years as a zookeeper,” Quinn said.
But the adorable mammals are also good for your neighborhood. They love to nibble on bugs, which helps curb diseases carried by these bugs, and will also happily eat anything they can find, such as beetles.
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But they live and love to spray, right?
nope Skunks really don’t want to splash you with their stinky prey juice and will only do so as a last defense. You have just enough oil in the gland to spray four or five times before it runs out. Replenishment takes 10 days, leaving them defenseless in the wild for a week and a half. That means they’ll do everything they can to warn you before using it, including stomping their little feet and wagging their tails as a sign of impending doom.
About 95% of animals see the skunk’s distinctive black and white coloring and instinctively know to avoid them, and if they don’t notice, it usually only takes one time to learn the lesson. Dogs, on the other hand, are the exception. For some reason they don’t seem to embody that fact in their noggins. The best recipe Quinn has heard for removing skunk spray from a pooch is baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and dish soap.
Fun booty juice treat.
A skunk’s spray can travel 10 to 15 feet, and 25 feet in a good wind. While they can easily fog a crowd when they’re feeling scared, a skunk is a true marksman, able to single out a specific malefactor from the same crowd and hit head on.
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What kind of SAT results would a skunk produce?
Probably higher in math than in words. They are quite smart, similar to a 1 to 2 year old, and very similar to an average dog. Skunks are highly food-motivated, making them easy to train. Isabel and Padfoot can do a good high-five as long as there’s a delicious treat ready.
Skunks are not picky.
They eat anything that fits their face. These include fruits and vegetables diced at the zoo, dog food pellets, and halved TUMS tablets, which provide extra calcium for their young bones. Their sniffers are top notch, sort of like raccoons, if something smells good they grab it.
If you love skunks and want to help them become respectable members of society, lock up your trash and don’t leave pet food around.
“They only get in trouble if we accidentally get them in trouble,” Quinn said. “If we leave them alone, they leave us alone.”
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