They wriggled under a milk crate, hungry, searching for scraps by the Peter T. Paul School of Business and Economics dumpster. Junior Skylar Kramer passed by on his way home and investigated their rustling. The family: mom, dad and five babies, crawled under the dumpster. They were skunks.
Kramer is just one of the many students who has had a skunk encounter this semester. Many skunks have been spotted near campus and Durham apartment complex dumpsters, as well as roaming the Madbury sidewalk.
Senior Lo Giarrusso lived on campus this summer and saw skunks almost every night.
“There were times I saw two skunks at a time,” she said. “I would hear a rustling in the bushes and turn to find them walking close by. I started to fast jog away because I’m so scared of being sprayed.”
Every night senior Tyler Romano hears skunks rummaging through the dumpster outside of his Garrison Avenue apartment.
“The skunks are definitely attracted to areas with lots of garbage,” Romano said, “and Durham has tons of garbage and trash cans outside.”
Robert Bennete, a gardener for UNH facilities, said he doesn’t see skunks while he’s at work because they become active at night, after the department is finished working for the day.
Jesse Fraser works for the Critter Control of New Hampshire, which handles UNH’s larger squirrels and bigger animal control issues by humanely trapping and relocating offenders or repairing areas to exclude wildlife. He said skunk populations in the state are smaller this year due to the harsh winter, but individual litters, usually four to six baby skunks (kits), are averaging six to 10 kits.
Students can expect to see fewer skunks by the end of November. According to Frasier, early fall is an active time for skunks, as juveniles leave their families and the entire population tries to bulk up for winter. For now, Fraser recommends placing all garbage bags into, not beside, dumpsters to take away the skunks’ reason for being present: the food source.
“If you follow the simple ‘don’t bother them, they won’t bother you’ rule, everyone will be all set,” Fraser said. He said skunks stomp their front feet and turn their hindquarters toward you before they spray. Moving slowly and letting skunks have the right of way will prevent most incidents.
If you are sprayed, Fraser recommends using a mixture of equal parts baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and Dawn Dish Soap as lather for de-stinking one’s hair and body. Soak clothes in this same mixture with additional water before washing normally to remove the smell. Dumping tomato juice on your body will do nothing.
“I think that the university should take some initiative and try to prevent the skunks from relying on our trash for sustenance,” said Kramer. “We pride ourselves as an environmentally conscious university, but clearly we are having an impact on the local mammal population.”