Orphaned Skunks Snuggle With Stuffed Animals To Keep Warm
"This is so the babies have a surrogate mother. It's a natural instinct to cuddle for warmth."
A woman was walking her dog around her apartment complex when she spotted something small and alive by some rocks. It was some kind of animal, but she wasn't sure what. She took her dog home and alerted her neighbor, Nan Davis, who worked in wildlife rescue. The two of them returned to the rocks and found a tiny baby skunk squirming next to the rocks. There was no sign - or scent - of the mother.
Davis phoned Kelly Simonetti, owner and director of Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary in Warren County, New Jersey, and asked if she could drive to the rehabilitation center to drop off the baby skunk. Before Davis left, however, she went back to the rocks for another look. Good thing she did, as she found five more baby skunks! "The babies must have crawled into the rocks one or two at a time," Davis tells The Dodo. "They were definitely not there the first time."
The babies' eyes weren't open yet, which meant they were probably about a week old.
"At the sanctuary, Kelly and I immediately started evaluating the condition of the skunks," says Davis. "They were covered in fly eggs, so they had to be shaved and cleaned and given fluids."
The babies were bottle-fed a special formula used for baby squirrels, skunks and oppossums. The Antler Ridge team also cleaned and combed the babies' fur, which is something their mother would have done for them in the wild.
When the Antler Ridge team left the rehabilitation center for any length of time, they tucked toy animals into the skunks' enclosures to keep them company, including a stuffed skunk toy. "We often give wildlife babies toy animals," Linda DeLorenzo of Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary tells The Dodo. "This is so the babies have a surrogate mother. It's a natural instinct to cuddle for warmth. Even human babies do this."
Even with the best possible care, orphaned wildlife babies often have a slim chance of survival. Sadly, three of the baby skunks passed away. The other three, however, became healthy young adults. When they demonstrated that they could forage for food, the three skunks were released into a safe area of woods.
"The best part of wildlife rehabilitation is the time when we can load the animals into crates, drive them into a safe woodsy area and open the crate doors," says Davis. "Watching them begin to explore their natural environment is the best part of rehab."
Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary is a nonprofit wildlife sanctuary committed to the care of orphaned and injured wildlife in New Jersey. Their ultimate goal is to release any many animals as possible back into the wild. They run solely on donations and have an all-volunteer staff. To support Antler Ridge, you can donate here.