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Don't Rush Me


Is there an epidemic among our skunks?


Connecting dot of animal die-offs



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June 01, 2011 - Oh, for about the past six years or so, I have claimed fame for my knowledge of spring's arrival. Prognosticating ground hogs are not my thing. And, contrary to the customary, or traditional harbinger of spring in these parts -- the sightings of the first robins -- I deduced from observation, that the real true note of spring is the arrival of dead skunks on the road.

Now, they just don't appear dead on the road, they awaken from their dens and start foraging for food and mates, and as they cross the local roads, blammo! They get hit. And, they smell, boy do they smell.

This year, coincidentally or not, I have not smelled, nor seen a dead skunk along or in the roadways -- and spring was messed up. It warmed up, but not really until this week. Are the two phenomenons related?

Long ago I remembered hearing about a rabbit epidemic, then die-off in Australia. More recently (January of this year) I recall hearing of bird and fish die-offs. Remember these headlines?

Thousands of dead birds and fish in Arkansas leave many scratching heads

or

Mystery bird die-off in Sonoma County

or

Paranoia or cover-up in Arkansas

bird and fish die-off?

or

Now it's dead doves falling from sky in Italy

or my favorite,

'Aflockalypse' now: Mass bird & fish die-off leaves science baffled

At least I saw no headlines proclaiming that UFOs and aliens from space are causing the die-offs. We got that going for us.

* * *

Still more recently, I heard about mass bat deaths in Michigan. So I conversed with local bat authority Dave Kugler of Critter Catchers of the white-nose fungus that is predicted to decimate the cave-dwelling bats of Northern Michigan. (Dave said the fungus problem most likely will not effect the bats who like to live in attics and bell towers. The fungus, says he, breeds in damp places like caves. Most attics are dry and hot. So we will continue to see bats in these parts.)

Ever trying to connect dots that may or may not be connectable, I wondered if there was something amiss with skunks. I know nobody cares about skunks, so it is probably not something folks would notice off hand. But I did and so I went to the internet and googled "skunk die-off" to see if anybody else noticed anything.

Here's the only thing I found (of course I didn't dig too deeply):

Skunk deaths probed

April 2, 2008, from the University of California

Since mid-February some 60 skunks, a fox and a raccoon have been found dead around Redding, Calif. UC Davis veterinarian Janet Foley of the Center for Vectorborne Diseases has been studying samples from the animals to find out what might be causing the die-off.

Rabies and distemper have been ruled out, she says. The researchers are now looking for other possible causes.

"It's important to identify what is causing this unusual die-off because the skunk can be a sentinel species that often alerts us to environmental health problems," Foley said.

Members of the public should not touch sick or dead animals, but instead contact their local county health department, Foley said.

* * *

Interesting. Of course, there were no further comments on that posting from 2008. So, I did the next best thing, I posted the first four paragraphs of this column in the "comments" section under that article.

Has anybody else noticed this? I drive all over the area -- from Goodrich through Ortonville, to Clarkston over to Lake Orion, up to Oxford and back to Goodrich almost daily and I have not noticed or smelled a skunk.

I usually see their little holes in my lawn from where they dig up grubs. No holes. I know I have grubs, because I see all the weaselly little tunnels from the blasted moles as they hunt grub.

But no skunks.

Let me know, e-mail me your observations and pithy comments to Don@ShermanPublications.org.

Don is Assistant Publisher for Sherman Publications, Inc. He has worked for the company since 1985. He has won numerous awards for column, editorial and feature writing as well as for photography. He has two, sons Shamus and Sean and resides in the area. To read archived copies of his columns, click on his name, just under his picture up top . . . He can be e-mailed at: don@dontrushmedon.com
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