Saturday, January 13, 2007

Lonely Skunk Needs A Friend

Canadian wildlife officials are looking for a brave driver prepared for a 3,500-kilometre (2,200 mile) trip to take a stinky stowaway skunk back to her home in California.

But the skunk, who survived a seven-day journey across the United States and into Canada without food and water, after being accidentally locked away in a transport lorry, is having a hard time finding someone to give her a ride home.

"We can never give a no-spray guarantee, of course," said Nathalie Karvonen, executive director at the Toronto Wildlife Centre, which has been caring for the skunk since January 5, referring to the black-and-white striped animal's foul-smelling defence mechanism.

"It would have be somebody who would be prepared for that possibility."

Releasing her into the wild in Canada is out of the question, Karvonen said.

"It's totally and utterly illegal from a provincial and federal standpoint to release a California skunk in Ontario."

As well, "skunks are very territorial animals ... "They won't just readily accept a stranger in their territory, so there will be a big skunk fight."

The skunk likely dozed off in some piping being stored in a yard in California. The cargo was eventually loaded onto a lorry to Mississauga, Ontario, just west of Toronto.

"She was certainly a bit dehydrated and thin when we got her," Karvonen said. "Luckily, at this time of the year, even in California, a skunk would likely have more fat reserves ... so that was probably fortunate for her."

While airlines usually agree to return such "accidental travellers" for free, Karvonen said the response has not been positive in this particular case.

Frankly, she's not surprised.

"I wouldn't want to fly on a plane with a skunk either," she said. "She's not necessarily going to spray, but I'm sure a skunk has never experienced takeoff and landing and those are pretty startling things, and that's usually when they spray."

Skunks can blast their sulphurous spray as far as 3 metres (10 feet) from two anal scent glands, leaving victims with stinging eyes and gasping for air.

Ground transport is the most likely way to get the skunk home, so the Wildlife Centre is looking either for a private driver travelling to California or a willing trucking company with the Pacific Coast state on its route.

"At least if you're in a car, you can stop and roll down the windows," Karvonen said. "If you're on a plane for five hours, you don't have a lot of options there."

She added that, despite the problem of finding transport, putting the animal down was out of the question.

"It is a perfectly healthy animal who's just gotten away from its home territory. Certainly, to euthanise it just because she doesn't have a ride home is not a nice option for us."

Those with an idea on how to get the animal home can contact the Toronto Wildlife Centre at 1-416-631-0662.

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited.

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