A dog comes in from his back yard in Riverside and smells so awful, he’s immediately sent back out.
A homeowner makes a nervous phone call, wondering what to do about the frequent four-legged visitor in her front yard.
A group of nuns sets up live traps, hoping they’ll be able to capture and re-home the potentially stinky stalkers that have been spotted around their living quarters.
It’s September in Wichita, and that smell in the air — the one that always comes after the aroma of back yard barbecues and before the scent of smoking chimneys — is usually produced by skunks on the move.
Social media and anecdotal reports indicate that skunk sightings and encounters are on the rise, and that makes sense, said Rachel Roth, a naturalist at Great Plains Nature Center.
August and September are the peak times when animals start “dispersing.” In simpler terms, the babies born in spring have grown, learned how to be skunks and are ready to go out on their own. They’re looking for places to live during the winter, and humans tend to see them more often.
“It’s definitely a time where animals are moving around quite a bit,” she said. “They’ve had several months to grow up and are following their parents around, learning to be adults.”
While they’re learning, skunks are often out and about more, she said. This increases the chances that they’ll become more noticeable when they start making surprise appearances in urban areas, leaving their stinky calling cards in their wake, Roth said. Sometimes, they’re just passing through. Sometimes, they’re looking for places to live.
Skunks tend to start denning around the foundations of houses, the edges of driveways, or under sidewalks and porches. A telltale sign of a skunk den is a grapefruit-sized hole, which a homeowner should fill with dirt, Roth said. That usually encourages the critters to move along.
Roth said the center has gotten several calls from people concerned about the sudden appearance of skunks in their lives, but there’s usually nothing to worry about, she said. Skunks are mostly a stinky nuisance and are only dangerous if they have rabies — something that’s rare.
She generally advises people to just avoid skunks and to take action only if they start to see one of the nocturnal animals out in the middle of the day acting strangely.
That’s the same advice that Morris Floyd, the security director at Newman University, has given students and staff about the skunk visitors that have started appearing on the school’s campus over the past couple of weeks.
One was spotted near the dorms during the first week of school, and a few have been “rooting around in the grass” near the convent, which is south of campus. The sisters have put a few live traps out around the convent, but so far, Floyd said, he’s had no reports of skunk-related problems.
Floyd says he always briefs incoming freshmen about what to do if they encounter wildlife on campus, and they frequently do — from skunks to geese to raccoons to possums to egrets.
“Just observe,” he said. “Otherwise, go the other way. If there’s a problem, if we’ve got a possum or skunk that’s acting strange in the middle of the day, I need to know about that.”
To help keep skunks away from places they should not be, said Charlie Cope, a biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, people can make some changes around their houses.
They can make sure they don’t leave cat and dog food out on their porches and should pick up garden produce that may have fallen off the plants. Enclosing still-producing gardens to keep skunks out is also a good idea.
They also might want to consider raising firewood piles off the ground and making sure that there’s no way for skunks and other animals to get under their sheds.
“People should look at their property and see what they might be doing to attract wildlife,” he said
Roth said that pet owners should also make sure that their dogs and cats are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations on the chance that they come face-to-face with a rabid skunk.
Otherwise, the only way to really prepare is to do some online research about make-at-home skunk odor eliminators.
“Apart from the odor and possibly making some structures unsound, there’s really no danger from them,” she said.