Opossums & Skunks Need Advocates, Too

Skunks aren't vermin - they're just neighbors.

On Wednesday, January 20th, the Daily News reported that the human residents of a public housing complex in the Bronx are “terrified” to leave their homes after dark because of the recent activity of wild skunks and opossums in their neighborhood. For those of us who have worked with and advocate for skunks and opossums, this would be funny if we didn’t know what this unfounded fear generally results in: killing and cruelty towards urban wildlife. Empty Cages Collective’s wildlife rehabilitator fired off a letter to the editor in response to the Daily News article:

“Skunks and opossums are native New York City residents who deserve our respect and compassion, not fear and hostility (“Residents of Throggs Neck Houses fear possums, skunks, but officials say little can be done,” Kerry Burke, 1/20/2010). Skunks and opossums are wild sentient beings who play an invaluable role in our urban ecology. They eat mice, rats, and insects, and provide food for other wild animals like hawks and owls. We owe these wild animals admiration for their resilience in surviving in an increasingly hostile human-centered world.

By refraining from leaving cat or dog food or accessible human trash outside at night and using repellents (kitty litter can be placed near or inside of a skunk den site to encourage her to move on, or commercial or homemade capsaicin or castor oil repellents may also be used) and exercising simple tolerance, humans and urban wildlife can coexist in peace.

Relocation or trapping and killing urban wildlife is an ineffective and cruel response to unfounded fears about these creatures. As journalist Dorothy Thompson once wrote, “The most destructive element in the human mind is fear. Fear creates aggressiveness.” Throggs Neck residents should let go of some of their fears and be open to the idea that their four-footed neighbors have a place in the nabe.”

We can only hope that the residents of Throggs Neck learn to appreciate the wildlife around them. Thankfully, resouces like Wildlifehotline.org and the excellent book Wild Neighbors make it easier for people to resolve conflicts with wildlife humanely, as well as appreciate the role wildlife play in their native ecosystems!

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