Mar 2, 2015

Skunks and Rat Traps

Photo Credit Monique Lee

Yesterday, another skunk was rescued - its paw caught in a rat snap trap. It was a difficult capture under a home where the skunk had burrowed a den under the foundation of the house. Check out the video.

The skunk was taken to local wildlife rehabilitator, Monique Lee, who specializes in skunks and bats. 

Monique has been rehabilitating wild mammals for over 15 years and has seen some truly heartbreaking injuries. One scenario consistently crops up, year after year: skunks caught in snap traps. Spring-loaded rat traps. The newer ones with interlocking jaws are the worst!

Skunks are omnivorous scavengers, relying heavily on their sense of smell to locate food, and their long non-retractable claws to forage. 

Skunks eat rodents, too, bringing them into yards and underneath homes where they can encounter loaded snap traps.

Attracted to the bait, skunks will explore armed traps with their paws. When triggered, the jaws of the trap snap down with pressure designed to break the back of a mouse or rat.

While the initial impact will not kill the skunk, what happens next sets its fate. 

If the skunk is discovered quickly and the trap removed and no bones are broken, it has a good chance for a full recovery, but if it's not rescued in time a skunk can lose its digits, or even its entire paw, as one of Monique's patients did.

Photo Credit Monique Lee

For the majority of skunks Monique has treated with trap injuries, it has meant at least two months of rehabilitative care. Some cases have been worse than others, though.

Photo Credit Monique Lee

In the summer of 2013, a young female skunk had been foraging underneath a hanging bird feeder when a rat trap snapped onto her sensitive nose. The skunk languished for 18 hours before we received the call. We rescued the skunk, promptly removed the trap and delivered her to Monique. After weeks of care, the end result was the loss of the tip of her nose.

Snap traps must not be set where other animals will come into contact with them!

When looking for ways to combat a rat or mouse infestation problem, consider how the animals are getting inside the structure - think exclusion before anything else!

To exclude rodents, seal up holes 1/2" or larger with screen or other material that a rodent won't chew through. 

Large entry points, like a broken vent or missing crawlspace door must be handled differently as there could be a larger animal inside. 

In addition to exclusion, sanitation will be key. 

Most importantly, garbage and recyclables must be secured in rodent-proof containers and a yard should be free of clutter and debris where rodents can shelter. Rodents should be prevented from accessing livestock feed, birds seed, and fruiting trees, too.

For help in excluding pests and protecting your home or yard, WES' Duane Titus and Rebecca Dmytryk can help. They operate a company called Humane Wildlife Control. Humane Wildlife Control can be reached at 855-5-HUMANE (1-855-548-6263). See their brochure, HERE. If you're outside of their service area, HERE is a list  of humane wildlife control service providers in other regions of the country.

Once a structure has been sealed so that no animals can get inside, then and only then should traps be considered. While snap traps can effective, rats and mice can be caught in live cage traps and set free outdoors. If the exclusion work is done right, the rodents will not be able to get back inside.

If snap traps are to be used, however, they must never be placed outside where larger animals can get injured. 

Lastly, poison bait should never be used as it works through the food chain, poisoning hawks, owls, bobcats, foxes, even dogs and cats. 

Photo Credit Monique Lee

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