the two Striped Skunks at Glasgow Zoopark are no more. Having died
of old-age related disorders over the last couple of years. Both
now reside in perpetuity in the freezers of the Toxicology Department
of the Kelvingrove Museum.
the U.K. now, there are, at most, two or three pairs all related
to stock at Marwell Zoo and the Cotswold Wildlife Park.
the 1970's, animal dealers Ravensden, and others frequently imported
and quarantined this interesting little animal.
had been brought up on stories such as those of the late Ernest
Thomson Seton who describes a family of Skunks living under the
floorboards of his raised, wooden cabin in the U.S.A. Their sociability
and family life - albeit anthropomorphised and exaggerated, no doubt,
and engaging nature made an indelible impression on me.
found it distressing to see such intelligent, almost dog-like creatures
incarcerated into rabbit-hutch sized structures in smaller zoos
and wildlife parks. At that time skunks were selling at about 25
pounds sterling each. So they were well within the range of those
looking for quick space fillers
predecessor of the current Zoo Secretary/Director, Jerry Fisher,
who had departed for Riverbanks Zoo, South Carolina, U.S.A.
, was quite keen on small mammals. He had left behind a young
pair of skunks, and an old, rotund male called Pudding
. Both the pair, and Pudding were kept in large, open-plan
enclosures, surrounded by a low (60cms high)wall. The only fault
was that the ground inside was flat, with a glass-sided house, or
a wooden box for the skunks to retreat into. They could not
see out of the enclosure easily, if at all, something which
can easily be avoided if earth is mounded in the centre, which I
would advocate whenever possible.
consequence, Pudding in particular devised his own amusements,
usually consisting of jumping to bite fingertips of hands -
usually children's - dangled over the wall. No number of warning
notices could prevent this, and Pudding's activities became
the bane of my life, especially once the staff told me that he ferociously
attacked, and would kill, any female skunk offered to him - again
something we would not accept nowadays. Eventually, we had to move
him to an enclosure, where it was just not possible for Pudding
to bite anyone, and peace was restored.
afterwards, our pair of Skunks bred and produced four kittens. The
time came when these had to be de-scented . Tame skunks
are most reluctant to skunk anybody, nevertheless, we were
advised that in the interests of vets and others who might have
to handle them in emergencies, this should be carried out. The Glasgow
Veterinary School offered to accomplish it.
volunteered to deliver the skunks to the Vet School ( on the
far side of Glasgow from the zoopark ) and carefully drove
there one day, with the windows open most of the way. Because they
were altogether, in a hay-filled box, they weren't too upset, so,
so far as I could tell, nobody acually became excited enough to
was a bit different once we arrived. The room where the operations
were to be carried out, was on the Ground Floor, and was approached
through large doors from a courtyard. The bulk of the Administration
was on three floors directly above. The ventilation system, I was
told, usually sucked cold, fresh air in, at ground floor level,
and dispersed it through the floors above.
So we'll just switch it off, for the time being, shall we!
Said the young vet who greeted me.
with a large American text-book propped open at the appropriate
page I've not actually done this before
he set to work.
baby skunk was lifted out by the tail, anaesthetised, then dunked
head first into a long thin glass jar , with his hind legs hooked
over the edge of the jar, proferring his rear end to the world.
Then the two little tubes of what looked like mustard were cut away
from either side of the anus. Holding one of these up with a pair
of tweezers, the vet no sooner told me: You
have to be careful not to nick one , than this was followed
by Ooops!! , and an horrendous choking
smell, filled the room. By popping outside for fresh air at intervals,
we managed to proceed, but not so the rest of the school. Whether
somebody had switched the ventilation back on, or whether it just
permeated everywhere naturally, we soon heard the sound of running
feet, as the entire building seemed to have gathered outside on
It took quite a while to clear the air so they could return!
now experienced at first hand what a skunk can do, it does not surprise
me to learn that in the U.S.A. allegedly, all camper vans carry
large containers of Tomato Ketchup. If a dog is skunked
, bathing him with tomato ketchup is the only way to get it off
apparently - the sort of trivial pursuit type piece of
information which could, who knows, come in handy one day!
baby skunks were in due course, passed onto other zoos, a decision
I have subsequently regretted many times. Because these are common,
and not endangered, and at that time cheap to buy, whilst simultaneously
possessing demanding requirements if they were to be kept properly
( though most people didn't appreciate this ), few zoos
made any attempts to, or managed, to breed them, and gradually they
died out in U.K. collections.
the Continent, the story was rather different. The 1975 Dangerous
Wild Animals Act in the U.K. had prevented Skunks from being taken
up as pets in the UK, but in Germany, where there are no such Acts,
significant numbers were being kept by hobbyists. As so often happens
with small mammals, hobbyists were more successful and by the mid-1980's,
Striped Skunks - and their white and cinnamon (I believe) colour
mutations, were available in pet shops!
tried to become involved again importing a pair of oldish animals
from Prague Zoo, and working with Marwell Zoo and the Cotswold Wildlife
Park, but the pair did not breed.
number of specimens have been maintained during the period, 1970-1998.
Initially purchased from animal dealers, at a time when small mammals
were cheap and easy to acquire. Skunks suffered from being regarded
as so common as to be relatively unimportant, and certainly
skunks were maintained in low-walled open enclosures, which by the
standards of the time, were large. One was about six metres by four
metres. Another, containing the pair which bred, was fifteen metres
by eight metres, approximately. However, they suffered in that the
dens were glass sided and not very private, much of the perimeter
of the dens was slabbed with crazy paving and the remainder was
maintained as very short grass.
was no significant behavioural enrichment, and the skunks were fed
in small steel bowls.
an absence of several years, when we kept them again in the mid-1980's,
we moved them to enclosures constructed in 1972-1974, but designed
for African Porcupines. These were far larger. The African Porcupine
enclosure is about 20 metres in length, by eight metres in width,
with a tall heap of earth running lengthways through it, and supporting
the house. This hill was cloaked in long grass, through
which the skunks made runs.
other enclosure for North American Porcupines contained a tall,
dead Sweet Chestnut tree, which was above all very large. Approximately
forty metres by fifteen metres, it contains rocks with holes underneath,
barrels, small mammal huts, a larger, walk-in bird aviary type of
hut, and logs. The grass was cut in some places, left long (
with numerous flowering plants i.e. weeds growing in it )in
counter the problem of this crepuscular (nocturnal species never
being visible, it was kept with North American Porcupines. Provided
the introduction is taken slowly, and both species can proceed with
their daily routines without being forced into confrontation,
they seem to co-exist without undue difficulty.
to their own devices, the skunks emerged soon after four in the
afternoon , when many visitors were still about, so most people
who wanted to see them did so.
this management was good by European Zoo standards, especially if
it could be combined with behavioural enrichment techniques such
as scatter feeds through the undergrowth. I would like to try and
capture the spirit described by E. Thomson Seton, where the skunks
lived at liberty and co-existed with him, living under
his hut. Phil Drabble, in the U.K, a well known naturalist and former
presenter of One Man and His Dog , a television programme
about sheepdog handling, keeps Badgers in a rather similar way also.
They live in specially constructed concretesetts on the badger
gate which gives entry to a nearby wood. This lights up a display
above his T.V., so Phil Drabble can monitor their comings and goings
from the comfort of his arm chair.
you compare these animal life-styles, ( which are probably replicated
many times in the U.S.A with skunks and Raccoons in particular
) it can be no surprise that most, if not all, zoo facilities are
verging on the grossly inadequate, from a Skunks (or Raccoons) psychological
point of view. We would eventually like to try keeping these species
(and Porcupines) in very large ( i.e. much larger --more ungulate
sized ) enclosures of great complexity. Until we, and other
zoos do this I don't see any way of avoiding the repetitive, bobbing
runs, round and round the enclosures which you so often see.
hesitates to deride these as frenetic (which they certainly
are, in small enclosures, and especially cages), but they are so
fast and uninterrupted, that it is difficult to describe them as
patrolling round their territory. Patrolling suggests proceeding
at a measured pace, not at a gallop, though perhaps mustelids do
normally patrol by galloping . If so, then the necessity
for even larger enclosures, becomes more pressing. The apologist
expressions promulgates behavioural enrichment specialists that
size isn't everything , and that quality of space
is what counts, is fundamentally flawed with the mustelids at least,
where size is just frankly inadequate.
the enclosures, our skunks were fed on as wide a range of food as
possible, including chopped fruit, and chunks of beef, powdered
with carnivore calcium supplement, dead day-old chicks, and the
occasional, fur-covered rabbit leg.