For several weeks, I had regularly observed a corpulent skunk waddling around my house after dark. A neighbor pointed out that my old crawl space vents were no longer flush against the openings they were supposed to cover. This made it possible that a skunk or a family of skunks could conceivably be living under the house. As someone once said, the only predictable aspect of life is it’s unpredictability. So I tried to take this news in stride. “How interesting,” I remarked to my wife with a cracked smile, “to be harboring such exotic urban wildlife.”
Meanwhile, I decided to call the city’s Animal Sevices Department. I was informed that, yes, it was possible that Pepe Le Pew and his family had taken up residence in the crawl space. I also learned that it was illegal to trap skunks in Los Angeles. Indeed, there are live animal traps that allow you to harmlessly capture squirrels, raccoons, and skunks, but this activity is against the law. Besides, skunks usually carry rabies so it is best not to get involved with them up close. Instead, the animal control officer suggested spreading a layer of flour, 1/8″ thick, around the crawl space. Then, after nightfall, when skunks leave their homes for a nocturnal prowl, take a flashlight and see if you can detect paw prints in the flour.
Well, flour was duly spread in the appropriate places, but a flashlight examination after dark did not reveal any paw prints. New crawl space vents were affixed the following day. If paw marks had been detected, one-way door vents would have had to be installed. Such vents allow animals to exit from a crawl space but prevent them from going back inside. We have a neighbor who, out of a love for cats, leaves bowls of cat food out on a patio. It is likely that this food has something to do with the skunk’s visits to our neighborhood.
Because of the ongoing drought, wildlife sightings are apt to occur with increasing frequency around our homes and in our gardens. When their regular sources of food — from wild berries to mice — are scarce due to lack of rain, animals come down from their traditional hunting grounds in the hills that surround Los Angeles, and look for food wherever they can find it. As lawns disappear, however, skunks and raccoons may be less commonly seen since a major part of their diet, in suburban settings, has always come from grubs that live under lawns. Still, if you grow vegetables, berries, or tree fruit, especially tree fruit that is left on the ground after it drops, you are likely to experience encounters with wildlife eager to sample your succulent produce.