The Eastern spotted skunk, native to our region, has lost up to 99% of its population in the last seventy years. It is likely completely extinct through most of its natural range— including the region of Tennessee where For Fox Sake operates— and it could be completely extinct in the wild within a decade. And here’s the kicker: this animal still isn’t federally protected as an endangered species, and in Tennessee, there is no limit on the number that can be trapped or hunted.
Although this small, weasel-like skunk is adorable and plays a vital role in the ecosystem, it has fallen victim to stigma and misunderstanding. People tend to focus conservation goals on large, charismatic animals like giant pandas and African elephants. A small, stinky critter just doesn’t get the same amount of attention. For that reason, very little is known about just how few Eastern spotted skunks still exist and what might be done to protect them. The extremely limited research is the main reason that they still lack any protection as an endangered species. Without funding to track and monitor them, there is no proof of their imminent extinction. Without proof, the state and federal government simply won’t protect them.
For Fox Sake is one of just a few rehabilitation facilities licensed to accept Eastern spotted skunks, but I haven’t personally seen one in the wild since I was a teenager in 2004. Other Tennessee skunk rehabbers say they have never seen them— in some cases, never even heard of them— and TWRA officials told me they are likely extirpated from this area. If you are fortunate enough to spot one of these in the Southeast, please let your state and local wildlife authorities know. With enough dedication and attention from the public, we may be able to protect these animals and bring them back from the brink.