A skunky stench in Red Deer is being unfairly blamed on animals instead of its real source — cannabis-toking humans.
Carol Kelly, executive director at Medicine River Wildlife Centre, said more complaints have been coming in from residents this summer about a skunky odour happening at the same time each day.
She recalled an angry caller who told her, “You have to do something about the skunks in Red Deer. It’s just disgusting. Every night at 10:30, they’re spraying — every night.”
“When we investigated, it was his neighbours at the end of the day, going out to the back patio, and smoking weed before they went to bed,” Kelly said.
“Poor skunks are getting blamed for the smell and it’s not them. Skunks don’t spray routinely at the same time every night.”
Gwenevere Marshall, the centre’s wildlife conflict specialist, who happens to be noseblind when it comes to skunks, can easily identify the source.
“If she can smell it, it’s weed. If she can’t smell it, it’s skunk,” Kelly said.
She said accusations against skunks started about two years ago, when cannabis became legal. Now, with the pandemic, people are spending more time at home smoking in their backyards.
Residents have also been spotting more wildlife as they spend more time outdoors, and they are very ready to blame problems on wildlife.
“Just because you see an animal in your neighbourhood, doesn’t mean he’s the one that did the damage.”
For example, an investigation by the wildlife centre into a rancher’s dead sheep showed the family dog was the killer, rather than wolves.
Once, a homeowner suspected fish in a koi pond were being eaten by a muskrat, but it was feral cats.
Kelly said the skunk population in Red Deer has dramatically dropped in the past seven years, when the wildlife centre started proactively working with residents to reduce conflicts with the animals.
Red Deer’s garbage bin system also made a huge difference, she said.
“We’re teaching, and educating, and changing the way things are done so that we’re reducing the numbers.”
But she said some people still panic when they see a skunk, even though they are quiet and non-intrusive. The wildlife centre receives about 300 to 350 calls about skunks in Red Deer each year.
“They spray to defend themselves. It’s the only defence they have. If they don’t have any spray, they are very much defenceless little creatures. If something scares them, attacks them, if they feel their life is threatened, they will spray.”
She said skunks don’t have much spray and it takes about a week to replenish. So if people are noticing a skunky stink on a recurring basis, don’t blame skunks.
“If it’s a routine thing, you’re smelling it regularly, it’s not skunks. It’s not what they do,” Kelly said with a chuckle.