Sightings of the western spotted skunk are on the rise.
Despite having a “cute factor that’s off the charts,” as one biologist puts it, British Columbia’s elusive western spotted skunk is something of an enigma.
It’s not clear if the solitary animal, which has a striking pattern of black and white stripes and spots and grows to less than half the size of the more common striped skunk, has ever been plentiful in the southwest mainland—the northern extent of its range—but sightings have been rare since the 1980s.
“Their cryptic nature and likely low density just mean that they are not easy to ‘spot,’” quips Rich Weir, provincial Carnivore conservation specialist.
But as the use of camera traps has increased so have accidental recordings of the skunk—the wildlife equivalent of “photo bombing,” perhaps. A camera trap is an unsupervised camera system triggered remotely. Spotted skunks have appeared in images from traps left by biologists monitoring for wolverines in the Skagit Valley and grizzlies along the Squamish River.
More recently, 23-year-old wildlife photographer Connor Stefanison of Burnaby discovered images of a spotted skunk ambling through a forest on a camera set up for bobcats in the Maple Ridge area. He moved to a new site five kilometres away, still pursuing an iconic bobcat image, and another skunk triggered his system. He has had more accidental skunk successes from the area since.
It’s counter-intuitive, but Stefanison suspects the skunks were lured to bobcat urine he sprayed. “The website I bought it from has all sorts of animal pee, mostly predator stuff. It’s for people . . . who want to keep animals away. I found it just attracts them.” (Aside from the bobcats and skunks, coyotes, racoons, deer, and mice have all, evidently, found the smell irresistible.)
The western spotted skunk’s recent camera-trap cameos may be a good sign that the population is increasing, says Weir. “Skunks are just so darned cute,” he adds, “you can’t help but be happy to see one.” Just don’t get too close—the odour of the spotted skunk’s spray is said to be worse than that of its striped counterpart.