For the first time in recorded history, a skunk has been spotted in Prospect Park.
These fluffy mammals have already put down roots (actually burrows, to be exact) in Central Park. They’ve taken over green spaces in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. But the members of the Mephitidae family have been conspicuously absent in Brooklyn—until now.
Pictures from the Prospect Park Alliance show a riotously fluffy ball of fur with black and white patches, and a tiny, pointy head.
“They've been in surrounding areas and streets all around the park for quite some time,” wildlife technician Marty Woess explained. “I've literally been expecting them to turn up in the park. Having one inside the park is fantastic as far as I am concerned.”
While some might be concerned about running into the smelly creatures on a walk in the park, scientists are delighted about skunks proliferating because they’re part of the native biodiversity of the tristate area.
Skunks are really just returning to their ancestral home. The striped skunk is a species native to Long Island and was even a popular food source for the area’s indigenous people. But it was almost entirely wiped out by island-wide insecticide used around the turn of the 19th century. Due to their powerful odor (which they release either as a defense mechanism or as a mating ritual), they weren’t really missed.
Skunks have been slowly repopulating since then, says Carol Henger, a Fordham University Ph.D. candidate studying urban carnivores.
“They do so well in urban areas, especially in New York City, because we leave our trash for them,” Henger told WNYC. “They can rummage through them at night. And then go back into the park for their dens and their food.”
Woess, the wildlife technician, speculated Prospect Park’s new skunk inhabitant may have been a pet turned loose by its owner or otherwise illegally dumped. If it’s a pet, it may have been descented, meaning amputated of the glands that produce that trademark vile stench. According to Steve Lorence of the State Environmental Conservation Department. “If you ever find one and you can pick it up by its tail, it won't be able to release its odor, then fling it as far away as you can.” Or maybe just leave it the hell alone, Steve.
Reporting by Shannon Lim