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west end of a skunk facing east

October 23, 2009

No, I didn’t get sprayed. I am probably one of only a few people to see the back end of a skunk without getting blasted. That was the highlight of Wednesday at the wildlife center. We have a mostly tame skunk that is non-releasable. He is too young to have his scent glands removed, because his nuts have not dropped yet.  So, he is fully loaded, as of now. He was brought in to the main building to be weighed. Fortunately, he did not spray us.

Every few months or so, all the resident animals get weighed. It makes for interesting times. Some of the resident predatory birds we have (when I say resident, I mean permanent residents that are non-releasable – either educational animals that are tame, or animals we are allowed to keep to raise baby animals) are not tame! One is a barn owl that is an excellent surrogate mama for baby barn owls which are brought in every spring and summer. She has never become tame, and when we pick her up, she screams louder than you can imagine, even though we are very careful and don’t hurt her at all – in fact, she starts screaming even before we put a hand on her. Ouch! My ears! We hate having to come get her – causes her and us a lot of stress.

To bring some of these birds inside, the less tame ones or the ones that pull their jesses off (jesses are straps that hang from anklets – if you’ve ever seen trained falcons on TV, you’ve seen them wearing jesses and anklets) we have to grab them and very carefully put them in cardboard pet carrier boxes. It can be an unusual experience trying to put a rather displeased barn owl into a box, and the great horned owls are bigger, heavier and tougher than the barn owls! I wear kevlar reinforced heavy leather gloves that cover not only my hands, but most of my forearms as well. Some of the raptors are strong enough to get through the gloves if they want, but they don’t. They still make things awkward. When I brought in one of our great horned owls to be weighed awhile back, the owl had talons of one foot latched onto one of my gloves, and the other food hanging on really hard to the other. I was handcuffed! I needed someone else to help me get the owl to let go – and he is one of our tame ones!

We have a huge red tail hawk – the largest one I’ve seen. She is not entirely sane, and can be quite dangerous. I am not able to clean out her room anymore without getting attacked. Our less experienced animal care coordinator gets to do that job, because she needs the experience.  She also gets to bring this hawk in. This hawk has jesses, and has been handled off and on for years, but still, not safe, and BIG! Not as big as an eagle so I’m told, but big. The bird went kinda nutty due to West Nile Virus, and had to be kept in a small cage for over a month for medical reasons, and went more nutty. I was glad I didn’t go get her. The woman who went to got her was not hurt, nor was anyone else, but still.. a scary experience.

I didn’t do any of the weighing duties this time, because I arrive at the center an hour to an hour and a half before closing, and most of the animal care is done by the time I get there. This is both good and bad. I don’t like to clean out the small wild raptor rooms, because I’ve been getting attacked a lot, but the main hawk cage is huge and there is plenty of room for the hawks to fly above me while I am in there cleaning, so it is far safer – I really enjoy working in that cage, even when there were 14 hawks residing there. Most have been released, and we just have 6 now, but it is still fun.

The skunk, like our other residents, had to be weighed. Skunks and bats are most likely to carry rabies, even if they don’t have symptoms. Only a few of the people on staff have been vaccinated with preventive rabies shots, so only they are allowed to work with skunks, bats (we almost never get bats) coyotes, foxes, raccoons and opossums. I have been told that rodents such as rabbits and squirrels do not carry rabies, so I can work with them, but almost never get a chance to, since I am mostly a bird guy.

One of the supervisors brought the skunk into the main building to be weighed. The scale is on a counter top. I am surprised that the supervisor expected the skunk to stay still when he was put on the scale.  He wanted to check out what else was on the counter, and went sniffing around. He put his rear end to us, but not to spray us, just to turn around to see what was there. I was near him just because I wanted to watch him. I’d been doing data entry in another room. It was… interesting to see the west end of a skunk facing east and not get sprayed.

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