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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

Skunks Can Be Beneficial Nuisances

Las Cruces -- Skunks can be beneficial to gardeners and land owners primarily because they eat on a large variety of agricultural and garden pests, but their burrowing and feeding habits can be a nuisance, not to mention the problems associated with their smell.

"The primary skunk found in New Mexico is the striped skunk," said Jon Boren, wildlife specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.

Excluding skunks is the best way to control the damage they cause. Sealing off foundation openings to buildings with wire mesh, sheet metal or concrete is a good first step, he said.

Fencing out skunks also works. A 3-inch, wire mesh fence that is 1.5 to 2 feet tall is suggested. The bottom 6 inches should be buried underneath the ground, and the wire should be bent outward.

If skunks are invading trash cans, use tight-fitting lids, Boren said. Skunks also feed on rodents, so eliminating rodent problems can reduce the attraction for skunks.

Boren said keep in mind that skunks can carry rabies. Any abnormal behavior, such as daytime activity or refusal to spray when harassed, can indicate that a skunk is carrying rabies.

To trap skunks, a box trap placed near their den's entrance is the most efficient, Boren said. Skunks are often taken in traps using canned, fish-flavored cat food as bait. Other food baits such as peanut butter, sardines and chicken entrails also are effective. A canvas tarp should be used to cover the trap to prevent the skunk from spraying.

Caught skunks can either be released or terminated. To release skunks, transport them at least 10 miles away from where they were caught and let them go in a place where they won't become a nuisance to someone else.

When trapping skunks, be careful of their spray. The scent is difficult to remove. Vinegar or tomato juice works well, Boren said. There also are odor-neutralizing chemicals available from commercial cleaning companies, he said.

"These options can usually eliminate most of the odor problems on pets, people or clothing," Boren said.