Skunks scare people who are afraid of getting sprayed with their unmistakable odor.
But watch out if they stomp their feet, because if they do, get away from them, a wildlife expert said.
Shane Kleiner, of the Second Chance Wildlife Center in Wyoming County, made a presentation on wild animals at the 13th annual National trails Day event at the Greater Hazelton Rails to Trails on June 11.
The center, established in 1990 by Angie Colarusso, gives medical care to animals injured in the wild, and keeps them away from human contact so they can survive when released back into the wild.
The glands that contain the skunk’s vile spray – which is a mixture of sulfur-containing chemicals – are located in the skunk’s back end.
The skunk gives a warning before he sprays, Kleiner said.
“What they do normally is they are going to stomp their feet to give you an indication they are not comfortable with you being there,” Kleiner said. “At that point, they are going to starting turning themselves to you. They are still going to look at you and their tail is going to come around and point right at you.”
Skunks have deadly aim within 10 feet with the spray, which can blind a person, Kleiner said.
“They don’t want to spray any more than you want to be sprayed,” he said. “That is their defense mechanism.”
If you run away from one skunk, you may run right into another one, because often they travel in pairs, Kleiner said.
“The best way to get away from them is to back away and walk away slowly,” he said. “If you see a skunk and it is not showing its tail up and its aggressive posture, just back away.”
If a skunk doesn’t spray, they also have strong teeth, and are on the list of animals who pose a danger from rabies.
Another animal high on the rabies list is the raccoon, which has sharp claws.
Colarusso said some people want to make pets of them. That’s a big mistake, she said.
“When people find them in the woods, they want to keep them,” Colarusso said. “They are very cute and I understand the attraction. Keeping them is illegal because it is a wild animal. They have rabies, and babe raccoons are born with raccoon roundworm, which is deadly to all other animals and could kill a human if you ingested it.
Anyone who finds baby raccoons alone in the wild should take them to a wildlife center, where they can be cared for properly, Colarusso said.
As for bears, while Yogi Bear stole picnic baskets, Ranger Smith always told people not to feed the bears.
That part of the cartoon is true. If you feed a bear, you will attract the bear to you.
“Their eyesight is not that great, they have fairly good hearing. Their big thing is their sense of smell,” Kleiner said. “They can smell a person over a mile away. The reason why I bring this out is that once that people start feeding these guys, they start to associate food with people.”
People who walk in the wild may encounter a bear. But they are as scared of you as you are of them.
“If you encounter a bear, you want to get as big as you can, make as much noise as you can,” Kleiner said. “The reason why I tell people to watch out for these guys is that they may not be aggressive, but don’t push them. If you see them, take pictures and observe them from a distance. Do not approach a black bear.”
If you encounter a bear, don’t run, because bears are predators.
“Their response will make them want to chase you,” he said. “Your best bet is to stand your ground and fight back, If you are trying to get away from them, back away, keep your eyes on the animal, and make sure you’re not falling over something.”
Another predator present in Pennsylvania is the coyote.
“The eastern coyote is from the blood stain of the gray wolf, and pack like a wolf,” he said. “They are in every city and town in Pennsylvania.”