Suburban 'skunk epidemic' survival tips

Eight young skunks burrowed under the front porch of Rana Dragon's home in Buffalo Grove last month.

The kits were cute, she said. They even ventured out during daylight - unusual for the nocturnal animal - and played with a tennis ball in her front yard.

"They were super cute, but then they would go back into their hole and we had no idea what damage they've done," Dragon said.

Like many residents, she tried home remedies such as moth balls and spray repellents. Nothing seemed to work. Eventually, Dragon paid to have the skunks trapped and removed.

You're not alone if you've noticed an uptick in the number of the black and white and smelly critters making a home in your backyard. Experts say the suburbs are in the middle of a "skunk epidemic."

"It's absolute insanity," said Brad Lundsteen, who with his wife, Katy, has owned Suburban Wildlife Control for three decades. "The last couple of years are the busiest I've ever seen it."

Perhaps Lundsteen's assessment isn't "scientific," but he has a strong grasp of the suburbs, serving Kane, DuPage and parts of Cook counties. The scientists who track wildlife in the suburbs and Chicago say people in Lundsteen's line of work have the best real-time data.

Seth Magle, director of the Urban Wildlife Institute at the Lincoln Park Zoo, says the skunk population has a boom and bust life cycle. It's possible that the suburbs are in the middle of a boom, he said.

The institute tracks wildlife using 100 cameras throughout the suburbs, relying on resident volunteers to observe footage and report findings. Results of last year's tests didn't indicate a huge increase in skunk sightings and it will take several months to crunch the numbers for this summer, Magle said.

"This is the time they're starting to venture out a little bit more," Magle said.

In Lundsteen's experience, tactics like ammonia, moth balls, loud music, repellents and LED lights won't solve a skunk problem. Hiring a professional to trap them is the only option to completely rid your property of them, Lundsteen says.

He promises this isn't a sales pitch because he's got enough skunk business.

"This season has been nonstop," Lundsteen said. "It hasn't slowed down at all."

Illinois law requires that trapped skunks be euthanized. For those who want to try options before paying for extermination, here are some tips from the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County and other experts:

• Make your home unattractive by blocking access to crawl spaces under decks, porches, sheds and patios. Keep pet food inside, clean barbecue grills and never feed skunks.

• Place flashlights, flood lamps, blinking holiday lights or a constantly noisy device such as a radio, alarm clock or toy in the den. Leave them on day and night - or at least during the day to disturb the animal's sleep.

• Place ammonia-soaked rags in the den for one week. Resoak the rags daily, and pack crumpled newspaper in the entrance to hold in the fumes. Never use ammonia between March and August; it can harm infants too young to escape.

• Block the entrance to the den during the night, when the skunk is likely out looking for food.

• Don't attempt to catch skunks. Of course, you could get sprayed, but they're also carriers of rabies.

A family of skunks made a home in Rana Dragon's Buffalo Grove yard. And she's not alone - experts say the suburbs are seeing a "skunk epidemic" this summer. Courtesy of Rana Dragon
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