Another Look at the “Humane” Alternative

Thousands of skunks call our city home. Sometimes we don’t think about our wild neighbours until there is a problem: a squabble over who gets the garden vegetables, or an uninvited tenant taking up residence under a shed. While skunks are only trying to meet their basic food and shelter needs, these conflicts can be extremely frustrating for homeowners.

So why not trap the skunks and move them somewhere else?

Contrary to popular belief, live-trapping a skunk and relocating it is not a good way to solve problems you might be having with it. While trapping may seem like a humane option, it often ends in a death sentence for the animal and leaves your property vulnerable to ongoing wildlife conflicts.

Here’s why:

1. There’s no place like home

Many people think that a skunk can survive anywhere. It may even appear that moving a skunk from an urban backyard to a ravine, park, or forest will help them, since these spaces seem more “natural.” But the truth is, skunks have specific home ranges where they are adapted to living.

A city skunk’s home range can be only a few blocks, and within that range they learn where to find food, water, shelter, and how to stay safe. A skunk that’s spent its whole life living under a garden shed and foraging in backyard compost piles isn’t going to stand a chance suddenly transported to a conservation area. Not to mention that there are probably already skunks living in the new territory who won’t be too happy about having a new neighbor.

Trapping a skunk and moving it to a new, unfamiliar location—even one that looks nice to us—is stressful and bewildering for the animal. Relocated skunks almost never survive for very long in their new environment.

2. Babies get left behind

Most skunk conflicts happen in the spring and summer, when mother skunks are looking for shelter and extra food to raise their babies. These babies are often quietly awaiting their mother’s return in backyard burrows. When a mother skunk is trapped and moved, dependent babies are often left behind. Without their mother, they will die.

Toronto Wildlife Centre receives dozens of calls a year about baby skunks who have been “orphaned” because of someone trapping and relocating a nuisance skunk. Sadly, we don’t have the resources to take care of all of them, and many are turned away.

Trapping and relocating a mother skunk with her babies also doesn’t work. Because of the stress and terror caused by relocation, faced with an unfamiliar territory and no prospects of food or shelter, a mother skunk will almost always abandon her babies at the new site.

3. Short-term fixes don’t work

There are no empty spaces in nature. If you get rid of one skunk, it won’t be long until another animal finds that cozy den under your shed or delicious meal in your garden. More likely, you will do a lot of unnecessary work or pay a lot of money to an animal removal company with no long term results.

In fact, removing skunks can sometimes even backfire and make the situation worse. Research has shown that skunks will have larger litters in areas where there has been a lot of trapping in previous years since there is still plenty of food and shelter. New babies simply fill the gap left by the skunks that have been trapped and relocated.

Conflicts with skunks are best dealt with individually: what is the skunk doing that’s bothering you, why is it doing it, and how do we get it to stop?